AND OtHER STORIES
STACY AUMONIER -
THE GOLDEN WINDMILL
AND OTHER STORIES
THE MACMILLAN COMPANY
NEW YORK • BOSTON • CHICAGO - DALLAS
ATLANTA • SAN FRANCISCO
MACMILLAN & CO., Limited
LONDON • BOMBAY • CALCUTTA
THE MACMILLAN CO. OF CANADA, Ltd.
AND OTHER STORIES
"One After Another," etc.
THE MACMILLAN COMPANY
All rights reserved
By The McCall Company.
Copyright, 1919 and 1920,
By The Pictorial Review Company.
Copyright, 1917, 1918 and 1920.
By The Century Company.
By the MACMILLAN COMPANY.
Set up and electrotyped. Published March, 1921.
" Oh, that mine enemy would write a hook —
of short stories."
As you know, it is considered rather provocative to
launch a book of short stories. It is asking for trouble.
The least I can do is to offer a brief apology; and I
cannot do this v^^ithout writing a preface, which requires
an apology in itself. Unless you are a Bernard Shaw
you find a preface a most embarrassing business.
Having written the stories I would rather talk about
anything else — old furniture, for instance. Perhaps
my best policy will be to start by attacking you, O
Reader, friend or enemy, as the case may be. You are
a most exacting fellow. Far more exacting than a
reader of novels, or works of reference, or even his-
tories ; for the reason that your criticism follows a more
circumscribed tradition. You are a kind of gourmet
whose palate is acutely sensitive to accustomed flavors
and satieties. It is always easier to be an epicure of
a small repast than of a banquet. A novel is less easily
digested. You may enjoy it in parts, or derive satis-
faction from the matter, or from the manner of tell-
ing, but with a short story you require a honne houche.
You have a most arbitrary standard. When you raise
viii ' PREFACE
youT eyes from the last line you pass through a most
peculiar mental process. It all takes place in a few
seconds. In a flash you see the shape and form and
color, the application of the title, the point of the
whole thing. You demand this, and you also demand
to have your senses tickled by some cunning solution,
and to be soothed by something unexpected at the close.
You observe it as a whole, in the same way that you
would observe a water-color sketch, or a Sheraton chair.
You may afterwards further examine the sketch, and
even sit on the chair, but their appeal to you depends
on that first glance. Otherwise you turn away, a dis-
satisfied and disgruntled gourmet. To-morrow you will
dine elsewhere. The truth is your sense of tradition
had been outraged.
Fortunately for you, and for me, tradition is a fine
thing. Nothing comes out of the blue, except perhaps
thunderbolts and they are not really very useful things,
certainly no good to any one trying to create, Chip-
pendale, Sheraton, or Heppelwhite were all men of
strong individuality. You could never mistake a
Sheraton chair for a Chippendale, or a Chippendale
for a Heppelwhite ; and yet they were all craftsmen who
worked on strictly traditional lines. The same may be
said of Turgenev, Guy de Maupassant, Joseph Con-
rad and Tchekoff. Please do not think that I am men-
tioning my own short stories in the same breath with
the stories of these giants. I only want to point out
to you that those of us who desire to write them have a
noble tradition to follow. You may argue that the
analogy between the making of a chair and the crea-
tion of a short story is rather far-fetched for the reason
tliat the plan of a chair has long since been fixed and
determined by the nature of the seated attitude; that
until we find a new way of sitting down the plan of
the chair must remain the same; whereas the short
story may wander at random over the wide fields of
human nature. To this I will reply — Has human na-
ture altered perceptibly more than the nature of the
seated attitude ? You are bound to agree with me that
it hasn't. The Arabs — who have always been the
best story tellers — have stated that there are only seven
stories in the world. The complications of what is
called Social Progi-ess have not increased the number.
They have rather restricted it. The emotions can do
no more with dollars and girders than they used to be
able to do with magic carpets and languishing houris.
People love, hate, struggle and fructify, and to set down
their story is a nice respectable craft with a fine old
tradition — very like chairmaking.
The two crafts have another point in common. It
is the business of them both to make you comfortable.
When I start reading a story by Tchekoff I feel com-
fortable at once. On quite a different plane I feel the
same with that remarkable story-teller, O. Henry.
They may shock me, or thrill me, or delight me, but
I know it's going to be all right. My sense of tradi-
tion will not be outraged. Tchekoff may give me that
accustomed sense of satiety by a mere turn of a phrase ;
O. Henry by some amazing double surprise. But I
know all the time that there will be nothing to worry-
In these stories, then, I have merely tried to be a
good apprentice to skilled craftsmen. I claim for them
no originality at all. Though their setting is entirely
modern, and they deal with such things as fried-fish
shops, and public-houses, and the like, they are just the
same old seven stories told in the bazaars of Ispahan
three thousand years ago.;
If through them all you feel something which links
them together, which moreover makes you and me more
intimate with each other, then I shall feel as happy as
Sheraton's apprentice must have felt when some noble
patron of the master's stopped in the workshops to give
him a word of encouragement.
TiiK Golden Windmill 3
A Source of Irritation 35
The Brothers 59
" Old Iron " '^9
Little White Frock 109
A Good Action 137
Them Others 169
The Bent Tree 199
The Great Unimpressionable 213
THE GOLDEN WINDMILL
AT the top of the hill the party halted. It had
been a long trek up and the sun was hot. Mon-
sieur Roget fanned himself with his hat, and
his eye alighted on a large pile of cut fern-leaves.
" But this will suit me admirably ! " he remarked,
and he plumped his squat little figure down, and tak-
ing out his large English pipe he began to stuff tobacco
" My little one," said his stout wife, " I should not
advise you to go to sleep. You know that to do so in
the afternoon always gives you an indisposition."
" Oh, la la ! 'No, no, no, I do not go to sleep, but
— this position suits me admirably ! " he replied.
" Oh, papa, papa ! . . . lazybones ! " exclaimed his
pretty daughter Louise. " And if we leave you, you
will sleep like a dormouse."
" It is very hot! " rejoined the father.
" Leave him alone," said Madame Roget, " and we
will go down to that place that looks like an inn, and see
whether they will sell us milk. Where is Lisette ? "
" Lisette ! Where should she be ? "
And of course it was foolish to ask. Lisette, the
younger daughter, had been lost in the wood on the
way up, with her fiance, Paul Fasquelle. Indeed, the
4 THE GOLDEN" WINDMILL
party had all become rather scattered. It is a pecul-
iarity of picnics. Monsieur Roget's eldest son, Anton,
was playing at see-saw with his three children on the
trunk of a fallen tree. His wife was talking to Madame
Aubert, and occasionally glancing up to exclaim:
" Careful, my darlings ! "
Monsieur Roget was left alone.
He lighted his pipe, and blinked at the sun. One
has to have reached a mature age to appreciate to the
full the narcotic seductiveness of good tobacco on the
system, when the sun is shining and there is no wind.
If there is wind all the pleasant memories and dreams
are blown away, but if there is no wind the sun be-
comes a kind, confidential old fellow. He is very, very
mature. And Monsieur Roget was mature. He was
fifty-nine years old, given to corpulence, rather moist
and hot, but eminently comfortable leaning against the
pile of ferns. A glorious view across the woods of
Eontainebleau lay stretched before him, the bees droned
in the young gorse, his senses tingled with a pleasurable
excitement, and, as a man will in such moments, he en-
joyed a sudden crystallized epitome of his whole life.
His struggles, and failures, and successes. On the
whole he had been a successful man. If he died to-
morrow, his beloved ones would be left in more than
comfort. Many thousand francs carefully invested,
some house-property in the Rue Renoir, the three comes-
tibles establishments all doing reasonably well.
Things had not always been like that. There had
been long years of anxiety, worry and even poverty.
THE GOLDEN WINDMILL 5
He had worked hard and it had been a bitter struggle.
When the children ivere children, that had been the
anxious time. It made Monsieur Roget shudder to look
back on it. But, God be praised ! he had been fortunate,
very fortunate in his life-companion. During that
anxious time, Madame Eoget had been patient, encour-
aging, incredibly thrifty, competent, resourceful, a
loyal wife, a very — Frenchwoman. And they had
come through. He was now a proud grandfather.
Both his sons were doing well, and were married.
Lisette was engaged to a very desirable young advo-
cate. Of Louise there need be no apprehension. In
fact, everything. . . .
" Name of a dog ! that's very curious," suddenly
thought Monsieur Roget, interrupting his own pleasant
And for some minutes he could not determine exactly
what it was that was curious. He had been idly gaz-
ing at the clump of buildings lower down the hill,
whither his wife and daughter had gone in search, of
milk. Perhaps the perfume of the young gorse had
something to do with it, but as he looked at the build-
ings, he thought:
" It's very familiar, and it's very unfamiliar. In
fact, it's gone wrong. They've been monkeying with
that gable on the east side, and they've built a new loft
over the stables."
But how should he know? What was the gable to
him? or he to the gable? He drew in a large mouth-
ful of smoke, held it for some seconds, and then blew
6 THE GOLDEN WINDMILL
it out in a cloud round his head. Where was this?
When had he been here before? They had driven out
to a village called Pavane-en-Bois, and from there they
had walked, and walked, and walked. He may have
been here before, and have come from another direc-
tion. . . .
" Oo-eh ! "
Monsieur Roget was glad that he was alone when he
uttered this exclamation, which cannot convey what it
is meant to in print. Of course, across there on the
other side of the clearing was the low stone wall, and
the reliquary with the figure of the Virgin, and doubt-
less at the bottom of the slope the other side would be
— the well !
It was exactly on this spot that he had met Diane
— God in heaven ! how long ago ? Ten, twenty, thirty.
. . . Exactly thirty-seven years ago !
And how vividly it could all come back to one 1
He was twenty-two then, a slim young man — con-
sidered elegant and rather distinguished-looking by some
people — an orphan, without either brothers or sisters,
the inheritor of a quite substantial competence from
his father, who had been a ship-broker at Marseilles.
He had gone to Paris to educate himself and to pre-
pare for a commercial career. He was a serious young
man, with modest ambitions, rather moody and given to
abstract speculations. Paris bewildered him, and he
used to escape when he could, and seek solitude in the
country. At length he decided that he must settle down
to some definite career, and he became articled to a
thp: golden windmill 7
firm of chartered accountants: Messrs. Manson et Cie.
He took rooms at a quiet pension near the Luxembourg,
and there fell in love with his patron's daughter, Lucile,
a demure and modest brunette. The affair was almost
settled, but not quite. Monsieur Roget, even in those
days, was a man who never put his leg over the wall
till he had seen the other side. He was circumspect,
cautious, and there was indeed plenty of time.
And then one day he had found himself on this iden-
tical hillock. He could not quite clearly remember how
he came to be there. Probably he had come for the
day, to escape the clamor of Paris. He certainly had
no luggage. He was seated on this spot, dreaming and
enjoying the view, when he heard a cry coming from
the other side of the low stone wall. He jumped up
and ran to it, and lo! on the other side he beheld —
Diane! The name was peculiarly appropriate. She
was lying there on her side like a wounded huntress.
"When she caught sight of him she called out:
" Ah, monsieur, will you be so kind as to help me ? I
fear I have sprained my ankle."
Paul Roget leapt the wall and ran to her assistance.
(The thought of leaping a wall now made him gasp!)
He lifted her up, trembling himself, and making sym-
pathetic little clucks with his tongue.
" Pardon, pardon ! very distressing ! " he munnured,
when she stood erect.
" If monsieur will be good enough to allow me to
rest my hand on his shoulder, I shall be able to hop
back to the auherge."
8 THE GOLDEK WINDMILL
" With the greatest pleasure. Allow me."
On the ground was an upturned pail. He remarked :
" Would it distress mademoiselle to stand for one
minute, whilst I re-fill the pail ? "
" Oh, no, no," she exclaimed.. " Do not inconven-
" Then perhaps mademoiselle will allow me to return
for the pail ? "
" Oh, no, if you please ! My father will do it."
She leant on his shoulder and hopped a dozen paces.
" How did it happen, mademoiselle ? "
" Imbecile that I am ! I think I was dreaming. I
had filled the pail and was descending the embankment
when I slipped. I tried to step across the pail, but
caught my foot in the rim. And then — I don't know
quite what happened. I fell. It is the other ankle
which I fear I have sprained."
" I am indeed most desolated. Is it far to the inn ? "
" You see it yonder, monsieur. It is perhaps ten
minutes' walk, but twenty minutes' hop."
She laughed gayly, and Monsieur Roget said sol-
" If I might suggest it — I think it would be more
comfortable for Mademoiselle if she would condescend
to place her arm round my neck."
" It is too good of you."
They proceeded another hundred paces in silence,
and then rested against a stile. Suddenly she gave
him one of her quick glances, and said:
" You are very silent, monsieur."
THE GOLDEX WINDMILL 9
" I was thinking — how very beautiful the day is.
As a matter of fact, he was not thinking anything of
the sort. He was in a fever. He was thinking how
very beautiful, adorable, attractive this lovely wild
creature was hanging round his neck. He had never
before adventured such an experience. He had never
kissed Lucile. Women were an unopened book to him,
and lo! suddenly the most captivating of her sex was
clinging to him. He felt the pressure of her soft
brown forearm on the back of his neck. Her little
teeth were parted with smiles, and she panted gently
with the exertion of hopping. Her dark eyes searched
his, and appeared to be slightly mocking, amused, inter-
" If only I might pick her up and carry her," he
thought, but he did not dare to mate the suggestion.
Once she remarked :
" Oh, but I am tired," and he thought she looked at
The journey must have occupied half-an-hour, and
she told him a little about herself. She lived with her
father. Her mother had died when she was a baby.
It was quite a small inn, frequented by charcoal-burners
and woodmen, and occasionally by visitors from Paris.
She liked the country very much, but sometimes it was
dull — oh, dull, dull, dull !
" Ah, it is sometimes dull, even in Paris ! " sighed
" You must come and speak to my father, and take
a glass of wine," she remarked.
10 THE GOLDEN WINDMILL
In the forecourt of the inn the father appeared.
" Hullo ! " he exclaimed. " What is all this ? "
He was a rubicund, heavy-jo wled gentleman, who by
the wheezy exhalations coming from his chest gave the
impression of being a chronic sufferer from asthma.
" I have been through fire and water, my dear," she
said, " and this is my deliverer."
She explained the whole episode to the landlord, who
shook hands with Paul, and they led the girl into a
sitting-room at the back of the cafe. Paul was some-
what diffident about entering this private apartment,
but the landlord wheezed:
" Come in, come in, monsieur."
They sat Diane down on a sofa, and the landlord
pulled off her stocking. In doing so he revealed his
daughter's leg as far as the knee. She had a very
pretty leg, but the ankle was considerably swollen.
" The ankle is sprained," said the landlord.
" Will you allow me to go and fetch a doctor ? "
" It is not necessary," replied the landlord. " I
know all about sprained ankles. When I was in the
anny I served in the ambulance brigade. W^e will
just bind it up very tight with cold linen bandages.
Does it hurt, little one ? "
" Not very — yet. It tingles. I feel that it may.
Won't you offer Monsieur — I do not know his name
— some refreshment ? "
" Monsieur Paul Koget," said that gentleman, bow-
THE GOLDEN WINDMILL 11
ing. " But please do not consider me. The sufferer
must be attended first. Later on, I would like to be
permitted to partake of a little lunch in the inn."
While the landlord, whose name was Jules Couturier,
was binding up his daughter's ankle, Paul slipped out
and returned to the well, filled the pail, and brought it
back to the yard of the inn.
" But this is extremely agreeable of you, monsieur,"
exclaimed the landlord, as he came bustling through the
porch. " She will do well. I know all about sprained
ankles. Oh, yes! I have had great experience. I beg
you to share a little lunch with us. We are quite
simple folk, but I think we may find you an omelette
and a ragout. Quite country people, you know ; noth-
The lunch was excellent, and Diane had the sofa
drawn up to the table, and in spite of the pain she
must have been suffering, she laughed and joked, and
they were quite a merry party. After lunch he helped
to wheel her out into the crab-apple orchard at thd
back, and he told her all about himself, his life and
work, and ambitions. He told her everything, except
perhaps about Lucile. And he felt very strange, ele-
When the evening came he left it till too late to catch
the train back to Paris, and the landlord lent him some
things and he stayed the night.
He stayed three nights, and wrote to Messrs. Manson
et Cie, and explained that he had gone to Pavane-en-
Bois, and had been taken ill. He wrote the same thing
12 THE GOLDEN WINDMILL
to Lucile. And during the day lie talked to Diane,
and listened to the landlord. Sometimes he would
wander into the woods, but he could not bring himself
to stay away for long. He brought back armfuls of
flowers which he flung across her lap. He touched her
hands, and trembled, and at night in bed he choked
with a kind of ecstasy and regret. It was horribly
distracting. He did not know how to act. He was
behaving badly to Lucile, and dishonorably to Manson
et Cie. His conscience smote him, but the other little
fiend was dancing at the back of his mind. Nothing
else seemed to matter. He was mad — madly in love
with this little dark-eyed huntress.
At the end of three days he returned to Paris, but
not till he had promised to come back at the earliest
" Perhaps I will go again in August," he sighed in
the train. It was then the seventh of June.
On the fifteenth of June he was back again in the
" Moulin d'Or." Diane was already much better.
She could hobble about alone with the help of two
sticks. She was more bewitching than ever. He
stayed three weeks, till her ankle was quite well, and
they could go for walks together in the woods. And
he called her Diane, and she called him Paul. And
one day, as the sun was setting, he flung his arms
round her and gasped:
" Diane . . - Diane ! I love you ! "
And he kissed her on the lips, and her roguish eyes
THE GOLDEN WINDMILL 13
" Oh, you ! " she murmured. " You bad boy . . .
you ! "
" But I love you, Diane. I want you. I can't live
without you. You must come away with me. We will
get married. We will build a world of our own. Oh,
you beautiful ! Tell me you love me, or I shall go
mad ! "
She laughed that low, gurgling, silvery laugh of
" What are you saying ? " she said. " How should I
know ? I think you are — a nice boy. But I cannot
leave my father."
" My dear, he managed all the time you had to lie
with your foot up. Don't torture me ! Oh, you must
love me, Diane. I couldn't love you so much if you
didn't love me a little in return/'
" Perhaps I do," she said, smiling.
"What is it, then, Diane?"
" Oh, I don't know. I do not want to marry. I
want to be free, to see the world. I am ambitious. I
have been to the conservatoire at Souboise. They say
I can sing and dance. My father has spent his savings
" Darling, if you marry me, you shall be free. You
shall do as you like. You shall dance and sing and
see the world. Everything of mine shall be yours if
only you will love me. You must — you must.
"Well . . . we shall see. Come; father will be
14 THE GOLDEN WINDMILL
In July he left his pension and moved out to Mont-
mar tre. He had never definitely proposed to Lucile,
but his expressions of affection had been so definite that
he felt ashamed. He spent his holiday in August at the
" Moulin d'Or." And Diane promised to marry him
" one day."
" Diane," he said, " I will work for you. You have
inspired me. I shall go back to Paris and think of you
all day, and dream of you all night."
" That won't give you much time to make your
fortune, my little cabbage."
" Do not mock me. Where would you like to live ? "
" In Paris, in Nice, in Rome, in Vienna. And then,
one day, I would like to creep back here and just live in
the ' Moulin d'Or.' "
" The ' Moulin d'Or ' ? "
" Oh, we could improve it. We could build an
extra wing, with a dancing-hall, and more nice bed-
rooms, and a garage. We could improve the inn, but
we could not improve these beautiful hills. Isn't that
true, little friend ? "
" Nothing could be improved where you are. You
In September Diane came to Paris. She stayed with
an aunt in Parnasse, and attended a consei-vatoire of
dancing. And every evening Paul called on her, and
took her flowers and chocolates and trinkets. And in
the daytime, when the image of Diane's face did not
interpose between his eyes and his desk, he worked
THE GOLDEN WINDMILL 15
hard. He meant to work hard and become a rich man,
and take Diane to Nice, and Rome, and Vienna, and
make the structural alterations to the " Moulin d'Or."
In a few months' time Diane made such progress
that she was oflfered an engagement in the ballet at
Olympia. She accepted it and Paul was consumed with
a fever of apprehension. Every night he went to the
performance, waited for her, and escorted her home.
But he disliked the atmosphere of the music-hall in-
tensely, and the other girls, Diane's companions —
Heaven defend her !
And then she quarreled with her aunt, and Paul be-
sought her to marry him so that he might protect her.
But she prevaricated, and in the end he took some rooms
for her, and she consented to allow him to pay for
them. She lived there for several weeks alone, only
attended by an old concierge, and then she took a
friend, Babette Baroche, to share the rooms with her,
and Paul still continued to pay. Paul disliked Babette.
She was a frivolous, vain, empty-headed little cocotte,
and no fit companion for Diane. On occasions Paul
discovered other men enjoying the hospitality of the
rooms, and they were always of an objectionable sort.
And Diane got into debt, and he lent her four hundred
At Christmas-time she was dismissed from her en-
gagement, and in a pei^icacious mood she promised
to marry him in the spring. Paul was delirious.
Nothing was good enough for his Diane, and he en-
gaged a complete flat for her, with the services of an
16 THE GOLDEN WINDMILL
elderly honne. Diane was very grateful and loving,
and in the transition Babette was dropped. However,
a few weeks after he had signed the lease, she was
offered an engagement for a tour, and after a lengthy
dispute and many tears, she had her way and accepted
it. She was away three months, and Paul was con-
sumed with dread, and doubt, and gloomy forebodings.
On occasions he dashed down to Lyons, or Grenoble,
or wherever she happened to be, for the week-end.
And he thought that the company she was with were a
very fast lot.
" But, my angel," he would exclaim, " only another
month or two, and all this will be over. You will be
mine forever and ever."
He was still paying the rent of the flat in Paris, and
it was necessary to send Diane flowers and presents
wherever she was. It was an expensive time, par-
ticularly as, owing to Diane having had her purse
stolen just when she was paying off a debt, he had to
send her another four hundred francs. She returned
at the end of March, and so great had been her success
on tour that an egregious, oily manager named Bonnat
offered her a part in a new revue. She received a good
salary, but the management would not supply her frocks.
It was necessary to dress well for this part. It was
her first real chance. She ransacked shops in the Rue
de Tivoli, and Paul accompanied her. Eventually she
spent twelve hundred francs on them, and Paul ad-
vanced the money. She only allowed him to do so on
THE GOLDEN WINDMILL 17
the understanding that she paid him back by install-
ments out of her salary. It is needless to say that she
never did so. However, the frocks were a great suc-
cess, and Diane made a hit. She was undoubtedly
talented. She danced beautifully, and she had a gift
of imitation. She very quickly became a star, and of
course a star could not scintillate in the poky little flat
she had so far occupied. She moved to a more fashion-
able quarter, and occupied a flat the rent of which was
rather more than her salary alone. She developed more
expensive tastes, and nearly always kept a taxicab wait-
ing for her at stage-doors and restaurants.
At this time Paul began to realize that he was living
considerably above his income. It would be necessary
to reduce it by breaking into his capital. He sold some
house property and paid Diane's debts and bought her
a pearl pendant.
" Next month she will be ray wife," he thought,
" and then I shall be able more easily to curb these
But when the next month came Diane was at the
height of her success. She had been given more to
do in the revue, and her imitations were drawing the
town. The management raised her salary. Her head
was completely turned.
" Oh, no, no, no ! dear heart," she exclaimed. " Not
this month. At the end of the season. It would be im-
becile when I have all Paris at my feet."
Paul begged and urged her to reconsider, but she
18 THE GOLDEN WINDMILL
was obdurate. She continued the same life, only that
her tastes became more and more extravagant. And
one day Paul took her to task.
"My angel-flower," he said, "we must not go on
like this. All the savings for our wedding are vanish-
ing. I am eating into my capital. We shall be
" But, my little love," replied Diane, " I spend so
little. Why, you should see the electric brougham
Zenie at the Folies Bergeres has. Besides, next year, or
perhaps before, they will have to double my salary."
" Yes, but in the meantime — ? "
"In the meantime your little girl shall kiss away
your naughty fears."
And of course Diane soon had an electric brougham
of her own. The more salary she had, the more it
seemed to cost Paul. He was receiving merely a nom-
inal salary himself from Messrs. Manson et Cie, where
he was little more than a pupil. However, at that
time he managed to get a small increase, and invested a
good bulk of his patrimony in a rubber company that
a very astute business friend advised him about. If
the shares went up considerably he might sell out, and
reimburse himself for all these inroads on his capital.
In the meantime a disturbing element crept into his
love affair. A depraved young fop, the Marquis de
Lavernal, appeared on the scene. He was one of those
young men who have plenty of money and frequent
stage-doors. He was introduced by Babette, whom he
almost immediately forsook for Diane. He called upon
THE GOLDEN WINDMILL 19
her, left more expensive flowers and chocolates than
Paul could afford, and one day took her to Longchamps
in his car.
Paul was furious.
" This man must not come here," he exclaimed. " I
shall kill him!"
" Oo-oh ! but why ? He is quite a nice boy. He is
nothing to me. He is Babette's friend,"
" I don't trust him. I won't have him here. Do
you understand, Diane ? I love you so, I am distracted
when that kind of person speaks to you ! "
" Oo-oh ! "
Diane promised not to see him again alone, but Paul
was dubious. The trouble was that he did not know
what went on in the daytime. In the evening he could
to a certain extent protect her. But in tlie daytime —
that raven ! that ogi-e ! that blood-sucker ! He was the
kind of man who had the entree of all theaters, both
the back and the front. He went about with parties of
girls. Diane explained that it was impossible some-
times not to meet him. He was always with her
At the end of July Paul had a stroke of fortune.
The rubber shares he had bought went up with a great
boom, quite suddenly. He sold out and netted a con-
siderable sum. And then he had a brilliant inspiration.
He would tell Diane nothing of this. He had plans of
One day he took the train and went down to see his
prospective father-in-law at the " Moulin d'Or." Tlie
20 THE GOLDEN WINDMILL
old man was wheezier than ever, but very cordial and
" Well, my boy, how goes it ? " he asked.
" Excellently," said Paul. " Now, father-in-law, I
have a proposition to make. Diane and I are to be
married after the summer season. It has always been
her ambition to live at the ' Moulin d'Or.' But she
has spoken of improvements. I want to suggest to you
with all respect that you allow me to make those im-
provements. I would like to do it without her know-
ing it, and then to bring her down as a great surprise."
" Well, well, very agreeable, I'm sure. And why
not? It would be very charming! "
" I suggest building a new wing, with a dancing-hall
and several nice bedrooms, and a garage; and laying
out the gardens more suitably."
" Well, good ! It would be very desirable, and con-
ducive to good business. You may rely upon me to
assist you in your project, Monsieur Paul."
" I am indeed grateful to you, Monsieur Couturier."
Paul returned to Paris in high spirits. He made
l)lans of the suggested alterations on the back of an
envelope, in the train. The next morning he went to
an eminent firm of contractors. So feverish was he in
his demands that he persuaded them to send a manager
down that very day to take particulars and prepare
the estimate. The work was commenced the same
In the meantime, Diane had bought some expensive
little dogs, because Fleurie at the Odeon kept expensive
THE GOLDEN WINDMILL 21
little dogs, and a new silver tea-service because Lucie
Castille at the Moulin Rouge had a silver tea-service.
And Paul was surprised because neither of the accounts
for these luxuries was sent to him. Diane said she
had paid for them herself, but the little demons of
jealousy were still gnawing away at his heart.
The revue was to terminate at the end of the third
week in August, and Paul said:
" And then, my love, we will mai'r}'^ quietly in Paris,
and then we will do the grand tour. We will go to
Nice, and Rome, and Vienna, and commence our eter-
nal honeymoon at the ' Moulin d'Or.' "
Diane clapped her hands.
" Won't that be beautiful, my beloved ! " she ex-
claimed, and she twined her sinuous arms around his
neck. " Fancy ! just you and I alone at the dear
' Moulin d'Or ! Ah ! and then we will go to Venice,
and to Munich. Good gracious ! It will be soon time
to think about the frocks and trousseau ! "
Paul's heart swelled. The trousseau ! Diane was be-
coming serious. There had been moments when he had
doubted whether she meant to marry him at all, but
— the trousseau! Why, yes, the matter must be at-
tended to at once. They spent three weeks buying
Diane's trousseau. Nearly every day she thought of
something fresh, some little trifle that was quite indis-
pensable. When the bills came in they amounted to
twenty-two thousand francs ! Paul was aghast. He
had no idea it was possible to spend so much on those
flimsy fabrics. And furniture had yet to be 2>ur-
22 THE GOLDEN WIIs^DMILL
chased. He went to his astute business friend again,
and begged for some enticing investment. He was
recommended a Nicaraguan Company that was just
starting. They had acquired the rights of a new
method of refining oih It was going to be a big thing.
With the exception of a sum of money to pay for the
improvements at the " Moulin d'Or " Paul put prac-
tically the whole of his capital into the Nicaraguan
l^early every day he called at the contractor's, or
sent frenzied telegrams to Monsieur Couturier to in-
quire how the work was progressing. At length he
received a verbal promise that the whole thing would
be completed by about the twentieth of September.
Excellent ! That would fit in admirably. It would
give him a month's honeymoon with his beautiful
Diane, and then, one glorious September evening, he
would drive up the hill, and jumping out of the car
in the new drive he would be able to exclaim :
" Behold ! Do not all your dreams come true ? "
And Diane would fling her arms round his neck, and
the old father would come toddling out and find them in
that position, and he would probably weep, and it would
all be very beautiful..
A few days later there was a rather distressing in-
cident. Quite on her own responsibility Diane ordered
a suite of Louis XVI furniture. They were fabulously
expensive copies. Paul had nothing like enough money
to pay for it. He did not want to sell his Nicaraguan
THE GOLDEN WINDMILL 23
shares. In fact, he had only just applied for them.
He protested vehemently:
" But, my dear, you ought not to have done this !
It is ruinous. We cannot afford it."
" But, my Carlo, one must sit down ! "
" One need not pay fifteen thousand francs to sit
Paul knew the evidence of approaching tears, and
he endeavored to stem the tide. In the end he went
to a money-lender and borrowed the money at an ab-
normal rate of interest, and then he went to Diane and
" My beloved, you must promise me not to spend
any more money without my consent. The conse-
quences may be serious. My affairs are already get-
ting very involved. You must promise me."
Diane promised, and the next day drove to his office
in a great state of excitement. Bonnat had been to
see her. They wanted to take the revue for a two
months' tour to Brittany and Normandy, commencing
at Dinard on August 22nd. He had offered her daz-
zling terms. She simply must go. It might be her
last chance. The wedding must be postponed till the
end of October. Paul protested, and they both became
angry and cried before two other clerks in Messrs.
Manson's office. They parted without anything being
settled. When he saw her at night after the theater,
she had signed the contract. And Paul returned to
24 THE GOLDEN WINDMILL
his rooms, and bit liis pillow with, remorse and grief.
On the twenty-first of August Diane locked up her
trousseau, and the furniture, and left with the com-
pany for Dinard. And Paul wrote to her every day,
and she replied once a week, and occasionally sent him
a telegram announcing a prodigious success. Only
occasionally did he get an opportunity of going to her
over a week-end. The journeys were very long and he
resented spending the money. In only one way did he
derive any satisfaction from that tour. The building
work — like all building work — could not possibly be
completed in the time specified. If they had arrived
there on the twenty-first of September, his beautiful
Diane would have found the place all bricks and mortar
and muddle. As it was, it would be comfortably fin-
ished by the middle of October.
When not going to Diane he would spend Sunday
with Monsieur Couturier, who was keenly excited about
the improvement to his inn. It was going to be very
good for the business. All the countryside spoke of it.
The patron of the " Colonne de Bronze," further down
the hill, was furious, and this was naturally a matter
of satisfaction to Monsieur Couturier. He was proud
of and devoted to his future son-in-law.
At the end of September came the gi-eat blow. Paul
heard of it first through the newspapers. The Nicara-
guan Company had failed. The refining process had
proved efficient, but far more expensive to work than
any other refining process. The company was wound
up, and the shareholders received about 2^/^ per cent.
THE GOLDEN WINDMILL 25
on their investments. Paul was practically ruined.
He would have to pay for the building of the " ^Moulin
d'Or." Be^'ond that he had only a few thousand francs,
and he had to meet the promissory note of the money-
lenders, lie wrote to Diane and confessed the whole
story. She sent him a telegram which simply said:
" Courage ! courage ! "
He wore the telegram inside his shirt for three days,
till it got rather too dilapidated. Then he concen-
trated on his work. Yes ! he would have courage. He
would build up again. Diane trusted him. In any
case, they could sell the furniture and go and live at
the " Moulin d'Or." He wrote her long letters full
of his schemes. On October the twelfth the work was
completed, and he went down and spent two days and
nights with Monsieur Couturier. Diane was to return
to Paris on the fifteenth. Monsieur Couturier was full
of sympathy and courage. They talked far into the
night of how they would manage. With the increase
of business assured, the inn would no doubt support
the three of them. There were great possibilities, and
Paul was young and energetic. Nothing mattered so
long as his Diane believed in him.
The night before he returned to Paris he went for a
walk in the woods by himself. He visualized the days
to come, the walks with Diane, the tender moments
when they held each other's hands; he could see their
children toddling hand in hand through the woods,
picking flowers. In an ecstasy he rushed to a thick
bush, and picked a bunch of red berries. He would
26 THE GOLDEN WINDMILL
take them to Diane. They would be the symbols of
their new life. Wild flowers from their home, not
exotic town-bred things. It was all going to be joy
. . . joy . . . joy!
He ran back to the inn, and spent a sleepless night,
dreaming of Diane and the days and nights to come.
In the morning came a letter from Messrs. Manson
et Cie. His dealings with the money-lenders had been
disclosed. His sei'vices were no longer desirable.
Well, there it was! It would take more than that
to crush him in his ecstatic mood. He would start
again. He would begin by helping Monsieur Couturier
to run the inn.
He returned to Paris late in the evening. He would
go to Diane's flat after she had returned from the
theater. She would be a little sleepy, and comfortable,
and comforting. She would wear one of those loose,
clinging, silky things, and she would take him in her
arms, and he would let down her beautiful dark blue-
black hair, and then he would make her a coronet of
the red berries. He would make her his queen. . . .
He was too agitated to dine that evening. He walked
the streets of Paris, clasping the red berries wrapped
in tissue paper. He kept thinking:
" Now she is resting between the acts. Now she is
dancing a pas seul in the second act. Now she is giv-
ing her imitation of Yvette Guilbert. Now she is tak-
ing a call. Now the manager speaks to her, congrat-
ulating her — curse him ! Now she awaits her cue to
go on again."
THE GOLDEN WINDMILL 27
He was infinitely patient. He restrained his wild
impetus to rush to the theater. lie hung about the
streets. He meant to stage-manage his effect with dis-
cretion. He waited some time after the theater was
closed. Then, very slowly, he walked in the direction
of her flat. As he mounted the stairs, he began to real-
ize that he was very exhausted. He wished that he
had not foregone his dinner. However, after the first
rapturous meeting with Diane, he would take a glass
of wine. Very quietly he slipped the key in the lock,
and let himself in. (He had always had a key to
Diane's flat, which was in effect his flat.) Directly he
had passed the door he heard loud sounds of laughter.
He swore inwardly. How aggravating ! Diane had
brought home some of her friends ! There were evi-
dently a good many of them, from the noise and
ribaldry. In the passage were several bottles and
He crept along silently to the portiere concealing the
salon. He could hear Diane's voice. She was speak-
ing, and after each sentence the company screamed
with laughter. Ah ! she was entertaining them with
one of her famous imitations. He stood there and
listened. He made a tiny crack in the curtain and
peeped through. Diane was doing a funny little strut,
and speaking in a peculiar way. He listened and
watched for three or four minutes before he realized
the truth of what he saw and heard. And when he did
realize it, he had to exert his utmost will-power to
prevent himself from fainting.
28 THE GOLDEK WIKDMILL
The person that Diane was imitating was — himself!
The realization seemed to be bludgeoned into him,
assisted by a round of ironic cheers. People were call-
" Bravd! hrava! Diane! "
He heard Babette say:
" Where is the little end-of-a-man ? "
And Diane's voice reply:
" Oh, he is coming back soon, I believe. I forget
A man's voice — he believed it was the Marquis de
Lavemal's — exclaimed :
" And when is our Diane going to marry it ? "
Diane, very emphatically:
" Do not distress yourself, my dear ; he's lost all his
A roar of laughter drowned conversation, and Paul
groped his way along the passage, still clutching the red
berries. He reached the door. Then he reconsidered
the matter. He crept back to her bedroom. He
placed the berries under the coverlet, and taking a sheet
of paper, he wrote one word on it : " Good-by."
He placed this on the berries, and then stole out
into the night.
Paul was then twenty-two, and his life was finished.
He was a crushed and broken man. He wandered the
streets of Paris all night. He spent hours grimly
watching the encircling waters of the Seine, the friend
and comforter of so many broken hearts. At dawn
he returned to his own apartment. He slept for sev-
THE GOLDEN WINDMILL 29
eral hours, and then woke up in a fever. He was very
ill for some weeks.
But. one must not despair forever. At the end of
that time, ho pulled himself together, and went out
and sought employment. He eventually got a situation
as a jimior clerk in a wholesale store, and he went
back to live at the old pension near the Luxembourg,
and he resumed his friendship with Lucile. And in
two years' time he married Lucile. And then his life
began. His life began. His life began. And lo ! here
was Lucile walking slowly up the hill, arm-in-arm with
her daughter Louise. Yes, his life began. . . .
"Ah! there you are! Wliat did I say? " exclaimed
Louise. " He's been asleep ! "
" And we've had such an interesting time," added
Madame Roget, panting with exertion. " We've been
to the inn."
" And there's such a pretty girl there," continued the
daughter. " You'd fall in love with her, papa."
" Is she very dark ? " asked Monsieur Roget.
" Yes, she has blue-black hair and beautiful dark
" I knew he would be interested. She gave us some
milk, and she has been telling us her story. She's
quite young, and she owns the inn, although it's very
hard work to run it, she says. She only has one
woman and a potman. Her mother was a famous
actress, who made a lot of money and bought the inn
30 THE GOLDEN WINDMILL
and improved it. She died when Mademoiselle was
" Who was her father ? "
" I don't know. I rather gather that her father was
a bad lot. He died, too."
"How old is she?"
" Not much more than twenty."
"Then her mother must have been thirty-nine when
" What makes you say so ? "
" Of course she must have been. What happened
to the old man ? "
" Wliat old man ? "
" Her grandfather."
" What are you talking about, papa ? I don't be-
lieve you're quite awake yet."
" She must have had a grandfather. Everybody has
" Well, of course. But — "
" Then he must be either dead or alive."
" How tiresome you are ! We must be going. The
others are waiting for us lower down the hill."
Monsieur Roget struggled to his feet, and shook the
little dead fronds of fern from his clothes, and his
wife dusted him down behind.
" We shall be going back past the inn," she said.
" The inn ! Why can't we go the other way ? The
way we came ? "
" Don't be so absurd. What does it matter ? The
others are awaiting us."
THE GOLDEN WINDMILL 31
They went slowly down the hill, and came in sight
of the' "Moulin d'Or."
" Isn't it disgusting, " remarked Louise, " how these
speculative builders are always spoiling the old inns ? "
" I don't see it's spoilt," answered her father petu-
" You are ridiculous, papa ! Any one can see the
inn isn't half as nice as it was,"
As they approached the forecourt of the inn, a girl
came out carrying a pail. She had dark eyes, blue-
black hair, and a swinging carriage. Yes, yes, there
was no doubt about it. She was the spit and image
of her mother.
As she approached she smiled pleasantly, and said :
" Good evening, mesdames; a pleasant journey.
Good evening, monsieur."
The ladies returned a friendly greeting, and Mon-
sieur Roget suddenly turned to the girl and said:
" Is your grandfather alive or dead ? "
She continued smiling, and replied :
" I do not remember my grandfather, monsieur."
No, perhaps not ; it was thirty-seven years ago, and
old Couturier was an old man then. Perhaps not.
" Papa, can't you see she's going to the well to fetch
water ? T\Tiy don't you offer to help her ? "
" Eh ? No, I'm not going. Let her fetch it her-
They walked on in silence till well out of hearing,
when Louise exclaimed :
32 THE GOLDEN WINDMILL
Really, papa, I can't understand you. So ungal-
lant! It's not like you. You ouglit to have offered
to fetch the water for her, even if she refused."
" Eh ? Oh, no ! I wasn't going. Very dangerous.
You might fall down and sprain your ankle. Oh, no !
Or she might fall down, or something. It's very slip-
pery up there by the well. You're not going to get me
to do it. Let her fetch her own water. Oh, no ! no, no,
no, no ! "
" Louise dear," remarked Madame Roget. " Let us
hurry. Your father is most queer. I always warn
him, but it is no good. If he sleeps in the afternoon
he always gets an indisposition."
A SOURCE OF IRRITATION
A SOURCE OF IRRITATION
TO look at old Sam Gates you would never sus-
pect him of having nei-ves. His sixty-nine
years of close application to the needs of the
soil had given him a certain earthy stolidity. To ob-
serve him hoeing, or thinning out a broad field of tur-
nips, hardly attracted one's attention. He seemed so
much part and parcel of the whole scheme. He
blended into the soil like a glorified swede. Neverthe-
less, the half-dozen people who claimed his acquaintance
knew him to be a man who suffered from little moods
And on this glorious morning a little incident an-
noyed him unreasonably. It concerned his niece Ag-
gie. She was a plump girl with clear blue eyes and a
face as round and inexpressive as the dumplings for
which the county was famous. She came slowly across
the long sweep of the downland and putting down the
bundle wrapped up in a red handkerchief which con-
tained his breakfast and dinner, she said:
" Well, uncle, is there any noos ? "
Now this may not appear to the casual reader to be a
remark likely to cause irritation, but it affected old
Sam Gates as a very silly and unnecessary question.
It was moreover the constant repetition of it which was
36 A SOURCE OF IRRITATION
beginning to anger him. He met his niece twice a day.
In the morning she brought his bundle of food at seven,
and when he passed his sister's cottage on the way home
to tea at five she was invariably hanging about the gate.
And on each occasion she always said, in exactly the
" Well, uncle, is there any noos ? "
" Noos " ! What " noos " should there be ? For
sixty-nine years he had never lived further than five
miles from Halvesham. For nearly sixty of those
years he had bent his back above the soil. There were
indeed historic occasions: once, for instance, when he
had married Annie Hachet. And there was the birth
of his daughter. There was also a famous occasion
when he had visited London. Once he had been to a
flower-show at Market Roughborough. He either went
or didn't go to church on Sundays. He had had many
interesting chats with Mr. James at " The Cowman,"
and three years ago had sold a pig to Mrs. Waig. But
he couldn't always have interesting " noos " of this sort
up his sleeve. Didn't the silly gaffer know that for
the last three weeks he had been thinning out turnips
for Mr. Dodge on this very same field ? What " noos "
could there be?
He blinked at his niece, and didn't answer. She
undid the parcel, and said:
" Mrs. Goping's fowl got out again last night."
He replied, " Ah ! " in a non-committal manner, and
began to munch his bread and bacon. His niece picked
up the handkerchief and humming to herself, walked
A SOURCE OF IRRITATION 37
back across the field. It was a glorious morning, and a
white sea-mist added to the promise of a hot day. He
sat there munching, thinking of nothing in particular,
but gradually subsiding into a mood of placid content.
He noticed the back of Aggie disappear in the distance.
It was a mile to the cottage, and a mile and a half to
Halvesham. Silly things, girls! They were all alike.
One had to make allowances. He dismissed her from
his thoughts and took a long swig of tea out of a bottle.
Insects buzzed lazily. He tapped his pocket to assure
himself that his pouch of shag was there, and then he
continued munching. When he had finished, he
lighted his pipe and stretched himself comfortably.
He looked along the line of turnips he had thinned,
and then across the adjoining field of swedes. Silver
streaks appeared on the sea below the mist. In some
dim way he felt happy in his solitude amidst this
sweeping immensity of earth and sea and sky.
And then something else came to irritate him. It
was one of " these dratted airyplanes." " Airy-
planes " were his pet aversion. He could find nothing
to be said in their favor. Il^asty, noisy, vile-smelling
things that seared the heavens, and make the earth dan-
gerous. And every day there seemed to be more and
more of them. Of course " this old war " was respon-
sible for a lot of them, he knew. The war was " a
plaguey noosance." They were short-handed on the
farm. Beer and tobacco were dear, and Mrs. Stevens'
nephew had been and got wounded in the foot.
He turned his attention once more to the turnips.
38 A SOUECE OF IRRITATIOE"
But an " airyplane " has an annoying genius for grip-
ping one's attention. When it appears on the scene,
however much we dislike it, it has a way of taking
stage-center; we cannot help constantly looking at it.
And so it was with old Sam Gates. He spat on his
hands, and blinked up at the sky. And suddenly the
aeroplane behaved in a very extraordinary manner.
It was well over the sea when it seemed to lurch in a
drunken manner, and skimmed the water. Then it
shot up at a dangerous angle and zigzagged. It started
to go farther out, and then turned and made for the
land. The engines were making a curious grating
noise. It rose once more, and then suddenly dived
downwards and came plump down right in the middle
of Mr. Dodge's field of swedes !
Finally, as if not content with this desecration, it
ran along the ground, ripping and tearing up twenty-
five yards of good swedes, and then came to a stop.
Old Sam Gates was in a terrible state. The aeroplane
was more than a hundred yards away, but he waved his
arms, and called out:
" Hi ! you there, you mustn't land in they swedes !
They're Mister Dodge's."
The instant the aeroplane stopped a man leapt out,
and gazed quickly round. He glanced at Sam Gates,
and seemed uncertain whether to address him or
whether to concentrate his attention on the flying-ma-
chine. The latter arrangement appeared to be his ul-
timate decision. He dived under the engine, and be-
came frantically busy. Sam had never seen any one
A SOURCE OF IRRITATION^ 39
work with such furious energy. But all the same, it
was not to be tolerated. It was disgraceful. Sam
shouted out across the field, almost hurrying in his in-
dignation. When he approached within earshot of the
aviator, he cried out again:
" Hi ! you mustn't rest your old airj'plane here.
You've kicked up all Mr. Dodge's swedes. A nice
thing you've done ! "
He was within five yards when suddenly the aviator
turned and covered him with a revolver! And, speak-
ing in a sharp, staccato voice, he said :
" Old grandfather, you must sit down. I am very
occupied. If you interfere or attempt to go away, I
shoot you. So ! "
Sam gazed at the horrid glittering little barrel, and
gasped. Well, he never! To be threatened with mur-
der when you're doing your duty in your employer's
private property ! But, still, perhaps the man was
mad. A man must be more or less mad to go up in one
of those crazy things. And life was very sweet on
that summer morning, in spite of sixty-nine years. He
sat down among the swedes.
The aviator was so busy with his cranks and machin-
ery that he hardly deigned to pay him any attention,
except to keep the revolver handy. He worked fever-
ishlv, and Sam sat watching him. At the end of ten
minutes he seemed to have solved his troubles with the
machine, but he still seemed very scared. He kept on
glancing round and out to sea. When his repairs were
completed, he straightened his back and wiped the
40 A SOURCE OF IRRITATIOIT
perspiration from his brow. He was apparently on
the point of springing back into the machine and going
off, when a sudden mood of facetiousness, caused by-
relief from the strain he had endured, came to him.
He turned to old Sam, and smiled; at the same time
"Well, old grandfather, and now we shall be all
right, isn't it?"
He came close up to Sam, and then suddenly started
" Gott ! " he cried. " Paul Jouperts ! "
Sam gazed at him, bewildered, and the madman
started talking to him in some foreign tongue. Sam
shook his head.
" You no right," he remarked, " to come bargin'
through they swedes of Mr. Dodge's."
And then the aviator behaved in a most peculiar man-
ner. He came up and examined his face very closely,
and gave a gentle tug at his beard and hair, as if to
see whether it were real or false.
" What is your name, old man ? " he said.
" Sam Gates."
The aviator muttered some words that sounded some-
thing like " mare vudish ! " and then turned to his ma-
chine. He appeared to be dazed and in a great state of
doubt. He fumbled with some cranks, but kept glanc-
ing at old Sam. At last he got into the car and started
the engine. Then he stopped, and sat there deep in
thought. At last he suddenly sprang out again, and,
approaching Sam, he said very deliberately :
A SOUKCE OF lERITATION 41
" Old grandfather, I shall require you to accompany
"Eh?" he said. "What he talkhi' about? 'com-
pany ? I got these here lines o' tarnips — I be already
behoind — "
The disgusting little revolver once more flashed be-
fore his eyes.
" There must be no discussion," came the voice.
"It is necessary that you mount the seat of the car
without delay. Otherwise I shoot you like the dog
you are. So ! "
Old Sam w^as hale and hearty. He had no desire to
die so ignominiously. The pleasant smell of the
downland was in his nostrils. Ilis foot was on his na
tive heath. He mounted the seat of the car, content-
ing himself with a mutter:
" Well, that be a noice thing, I must say ! Flyin'
about the country with all they tarnips on'y half
thinned — "
He found himself strapped in. The aviator was in
a fever of anxiety to get away. The engines made a
ghastly splutter and noise. The thing started running
along the ground. Suddenly it shot upwards, giving
the swedes a last contemptuous kick. At twenty min-
utes to eight that morning old Sam found himself be-
ing borne right up above his fields and out to sea ! His
breath came quickly. He was a little frightened.
" God forgive me ! " he murmured.
The thing was so fantastic and sudden, his mind
42 A SOURCE OF lERITATION
could not grasp it. He only felt in some vague way
that he was going to die, and he struggled to attune his
mind to the change. He offered up a mild prayer to
God, Who, he felt, must be very near, somewhere up
in these clouds. Automatically he thought of the vicar
at Halvesham, and a certain sense of comfort came to
him at the reflection that on the previous day he had
taken a " cooking of runner beans " to God's represent-
ative in that village. He felt calmer after that, but
the horrid machine seemed to go higher and higher.
He could not turn in his seat and he could see nothing
but sea and sky. Of course the man was mad, mad
as a March hare. Of what earthly use could he be
to any one? Besides, he had talked pure gibberish,
and called him Paul Something, when he had already
told him that his name was Sam. The thing would fall
down into the sea soon, and they would both be drowned.
Well, well ! He had reached the three-score years and
He was protected by a screen, but it seemed very
cold. What on earth would Mr. Dodge say? There
was no one left to work the land but a fool of a boy
named Billy Whitehead at Deric's Cross. On, on, on
they went at a furious pace. His thoughts danced dis-
connectedly from incidents of his youth, conversations
with the vicar, hearty meals in the open, a frock his
sister wore on the day of the postman's wedding, the
drone of a psalm, the illness of some ewes belonging
to Mr. Dodge. Everything seemed to be moving very
rapidly, upsetting his sense of time. He felt out-
A SOUKCE OF lERITATION 43
raged and yet at moments there was something entranc-
ing in the wild experience. He seemed to be living at
an incredible pace. Perhaps he was really dead, and
on his way to the Kingdom of God ? Perhaps this was
the way they took people ?
After some indefinite period he suddenly caught sight
of a long strip of land. Was this a foreign country?
or were they returning? He had by this time lost all
feeling of fear. He became interested, and almost dis-
appointed. The " airyplane " was not such a fool as
it looked. It was very wonderful to be right up in the
sky like this. His dreams were suddenly disturbed
by a fearful noise. He thought the machine was blown
to pieces. It dived and ducked through the air, and
things were bursting all round it and making an a^vful
din; and then it went up higher and higher. After a
while these noises ceased, and he felt the machine glid-
ing downwards. They were really right above solid
land, trees, and fields, and streams, and white villages.
Down, down, down they glided. This was a foreign
country. There were straight avenues of poplars and
canals. This was not Halvesham. He felt the thing
glide gently and bump into a field. Some men ran
forward and approached them, and the mad aviator
called out to them. They were mostly fat men in gray
uniforms, and they all spoke this foreign gibberish.
Some one came and unstrapped him. He was very
stiff, and could hardly move. An exceptionally gross-
looking man punched him in the ribs, and roared with
laughter. They all stood round and laughed at him,
44 A SOURCE OF lERITATIOE"
while the mad aviator talked to them and kept pointing
at him. Then he said :
" Old grandfather, jou must come with me."
He was led to a zinc-roofed building, and shut in a
little room. There were guards outside with fixed bay-
onets. After a while the mad aviator appeared again,
accompanied by two soldiers. He beckoned him to fol-
low. They marched through a quadrangle and entered
another building. They went straight into an office
where a very important-looking man, covered with
medals, sat in an easy-chair. There was a lot of
saluting and clicking of heels.
The aviator pointed at Sam and said something, and
the man with the medals started at sight of him, and
then came up and spoke to him in English.
" What is your name ? Where do you come from ?
Your age ? The name and birthplace of your parents ? "
He seemed intensely interested, and also pulled his
hair and beard to see if they came off. So well and
naturally did he and the aviator speak English that after
a voluble cross-examination they drew apart, and con-
tinued the conversation in that language. And the
extraordinary conversation was of this nature:
" It is a most remarkable resemblance," said the man
with medals. " Unghublich ! V>\\t what do you want
me to do with him, Hau^semann ? "
" The idea came to me suddenly, excellency," replied
the aviator, " and you may consider it worthless. It is
just this. The resemblance is so amazing. Paul
Jouperts has given us more valuable information than
A SOUKCE OF lERITATION 45
any one at present in our service. And the English
know that. There is an award of twenty-five thousand
francs on liis head. Twice they have captured him,
and each time he escaped. All the company com-
manders and their staff have his photograph. He is a
serious thorn in their flesh."
" Well ? " replied the man with the medals.
The aviator whispered confidently:
" Suppose, your excellency, that they found the dead
body of Paul Jouperts ? "
" Well ? " replied the big man.
" My suggestion is this. To-morrow, as you know,
the English are attacking Hill 701, which we have for
tactical reasons decided to evacuate. If after the at-
tack they find the dead body of Paul Jouperts in, say,
the second lines, they will take no further trouble in
the matter. You kriow their lack of thoroughness.
Pardon me, I was two years at Oxford University.
And consequently Paul Jouperts will be able to —
prosecute his labors undisturbed."
The man with the medals twirled his mustache and
looked thoughtfully at his colleague.
" Where is Paul at the moment ? " he asked.
" He is acting as a gardener at the Convent of St.
Eloise at Mailleton-en-haut, which, as you know, is
one hundred meters from the headquarters of the British
central army staff."
The man with the medals took two or three rapid
turns up and down the room. Then he said :
" Your plan is excellent, Hausemann. The only point
46 A SOURCE OF lERITATION"
of difficulty is that the attack started this morning."
" This morning ? " exclaimed the other.
" Yes. The English attacked unexpectedly at dawn.
We have already evacuated the first line. We shall
evacuate the second line at eleven-fifty. It is now
ten-fifteen. There may be just time."
He looked suddenly at old Sam in the way that
a butcher might look at a prize heifer at an agricultural
show, and remarked casually :
" Yes, it is a remarkable resemblance. It seems a
pity not to ... do something with it."
Then, speaking in German, he added:
" It is worth trying, and if it succeeds, the higher
authorities shall hear of your lucky accident and in-
spiration, Herr Hausemann. Instruct Over-lieutenant
Schutz to send the old fool by two orderlies to the east
extremity of trench 38. Keep him there till the order
of evacuation is given. Then shoot him, but don't dis-
figure him, and lay him out face upwards."
The aviator saluted and withdrew, accompanied by
his victim. Old Sam had not understood the latter part
of the conversation, and he did not catch quite all that
was said in English, but he felt that somehow things
were not becoming too promising, and it was time to
assert himself. So he remarked when they got outside :
" ISTow, look'ee here, mister, when be I goin' back to
my tamips ? "
And the aviator replied with a pleasant smile:
"Do not be disturbed, old grandfather; you shall
. . . get back to the soil quite soon."
A SOURCE OF IRRITATION 47
In a few moments he found himself in a large gi-aj
car, accompanied by four soldiers. The aviator left
him. The country was barren and horrible, full of
great pits and rents, and he could hear the roar of
artillery and the shriek of shells. Overhead, aeroplanes
were buzzing angrily. He seemed to be suddenly trans-
ported from the Kingdom of God to the Pit of Dark-
ness. He wondered whether the vicar had enjoyed the
runner-beans. He could not imagine runner-beans
growing here, runner-beans, ay! or anything else. If
this w^as a foreign country, give him dear old England.
Gr-r-r-r — Bang ! Something exploded just at the
rear of the car. The soldiers ducked, and one of them
pushed him in the stomach and swore.
" An ugly-looking lout," he thought. " If I w^as
twenty years younger I'd give him a punch in the eye
that 'ud make him sit up."
The car came to a halt by a broken wall. The party
hurried out and dived behind a mound. He was pulled
down a kind of shaft and found himself in a room buried
right underground, where three officers were drinking
and smoking. The soldiers saluted and handed a type-
written dispatch. The officers looked at him drunkenly,
and one came up and pulled his beard and spat in his
face, and called him " an old English swine." He then
shouted out some instructions to the soldiers, and they
led him out into the narrow trench. One walked be-
hind him and occasionally prodded him with the butt-
end of a gim. The trenches were half-full of water,
and reeked of gases, powder, and decaying matter.
48 A SOUECE OF IREITATIOX
Shells were constantly bursting overhead, and in places
the trenches had crumbled and were nearly blocked
up. They stumbled on, sometimes falling, sometimes
dodging moving masses, and occasionally crawling over
the dead bodies of men. At last they reached a de-
serted-looking trench, and one of the soldiers pushed him
into the corner of it and growled something, and
then disappeared round the angle. Old Sam was ex-
hausted. He lay panting against the mud wall,
expecting every minute to be blown to pieces by one
of those infernal things that seemed to be getting more
and more insistent. The din went on for nearly twenty
minutes, and he was alone in the trench. He fancied
he heard a whistle amidst the din. Suddenly one of
the soldiers who had accompanied him came stealthily
round the corner. And there was a look in his eye
old Sam did not like. When he was within five yards
the soldier raised his rifle and pointed it at Sam's
body. Some instinct impelled the old man at that in-
stant to throw himself forward on his face. As he
did so, he was conscious of a terrible explosion, and he
had just time to observe the soldier falling in a heap
near him, when he lost consciousness.
His consciousness appeared to return to him with a
snap. He was lying on a plank in a building, and he
heard some one say:
" I believe the old boy's English."
He looked round. There were a lot of men lying
there, and others in khaki and white overalls were busy
A SOURCE OF IRRITATION 49
amongst them. He sat up and rubbed his head, and
" Hi, mister, where be I now ? "
Some one laughed, and a young man came up and
" Well, old thing, you were very nearly in hell.
Who the devil are you ? "
Some one else came up, and the two of them were
discussing him. One of them said :
" He's quite all right. He was only knocked out.
Better take him to the colonel. He may be a spy."
The other came up, and touched his shoulder, and
" Can you walk, uncle ? "
He replied : " Ay, I can walk all right."
" That's an old sport ! "
The young man took his arm and helped him out
of the room, into a courtyard. They entered another
room, where an elderlv, kind-faced officer was seated at
a desk. The officer looked up, and exclaimed:
" Good God ! Bradshaw, do you know who you've
got there ? "
The younger one said, " No. Wlio, sir ? "
"By God! It's Paul Jouperts!" exclaimed the
" Paul Jouperts ! Great Scott ! "
The old officer addressed himself to Sam. He said:
" Well, we've got you once more, Paul. We shall
have to be a little more careful this time."
50 A SOURCE OF IRRITATIOi^
The young officer said :
" Shall I detail a squad, sir ? "
"We can't shoot him without a court-martial," re-
plied the kind-faced senior.
Then Sam interpolated :
" Look'ee here, sir. I'm fair sick of all this. My
name bean't Paul. My name's Sam. I was a-thinnin'
a line of tarnips — "
Both officers burst out laughing, and the younger one
" Good ! damn good ! Isn't it amazing, sir, the way
they not only leam the language, but even take the
trouble to leam a dialect ? "
The older man busied himself with some papers.
" Well, Sam," he remarked, " you shall be given a
chance to prove your identity. Our methods are less
drastic than those of your Boche masters. What part
of England are you supposed to come from ? Let's see
how much you can bluff us with your topographical
" Oi was a-thinnin' a loine o' tarnips this morning at
'alf-past seven on Mr. Dodge's farm at Halvesham, when
one o' these 'ere airyplanes come roight down among
the swedes. I tells 'ee to get clear o' that, when the
feller what gets owt o' the car, 'e drabs a revowler and
'e says, ' You must 'company I — ' "
" Yes, yes," interrupted the senior officer ; " that's all
very good. "Now tell me — Where is Halvesham?
What is the name of the local vicar? I'm sure you'd
A SOURCE OF IRRITATION 51
Old Sam rubbed his chin.
" I sits under the Reverend David Pryce, mister, and
a good God-fearin' man he be. I took him a cookin' o'
runner-beans on'y yesterday. I works for Mr. Dodge
what owns Greenway Manor and 'as a stud-farm at
Newmarket they say."
" Charles Dodge ? " asked the younger officers.
" Ay, Charlie Dodge. You write and ask 'un if he
knows old Sam Gates."
The two officers looked at each other, and the older
one looked at Sam more closely.
" It's very extraordinary," he remarked.
" Everybody knows Charlie Dodge," added the
It was at that moment that a wave of genius swept
over old Sam. He put his hand to his head, and sud-
denly jerked out :
" What's more, I can tell 'ee where this yere Paul is.
He's actin' a gardener in a convent at — "
He puckered up his brow and fumbled with his hat,
and then got out:
The older officer gasped.
" Mailleton-en-haut ! Good God ! What makes you
say that, old man ? "
Sam tried to give an account of his experience, and
the things he had heard said by the German officers.
But he was getting tired, and he broke off in the middle
" Ye haven't a bite o' somethin' to eat, I suppose,
52 A SOURCE OF IRRITATION"
mister, and a glass o' beer ? I usually 'as my dinner at
Both the officers laughed, and the older said :
" Get him some food, Bradshaw, and a bottle of beer
from the mess. We'll keep this old man here. He
While the younger man was doing this, the chief
pressed a button and summoned another junior officer.
" Gateshead," he remarked, " ring up G. H. Q. and
instruct them to arrest the gardener in that convent at
the top of the hill, and then to report."
The officer saluted and went out, and in a few minutes
a tray of hot food and a large bottle of beer was brought
to the old man, and he was left alone in the corner of
the room to negotiate this welcome compensation. And
in the execution he did himself and his country credit.
In the meanwhile the officers were very busy. People
were coming and going and examining maps and tele-
phone-bells were ringing furiously. They did not dis-
turb old Sam's gastronomic operations. He cleaned
up the mess tins and finished the last drop of beer.
The senior officer found time to offer him a cigarette,
but he replied :
" Thank 'ee kindly, but I'd rather smoke my pipe."
The colonel smiled, and said:
" Oh, all right. Smoke away."
He lighted up, and the fumes of the shag permeated
the room. Some one opened another window, and the
young officer who had addressed him at first suddenly
looked at him and exclaimed:
A SOURCE OF IREITATIOiN" 53
" Innocent, by God ! You couldn't get shag like that
anywhere but in Norfolk."
It must have been over an hour later when another
officer entered, and saluted.
" Message from G. H. Q., sir," he said.
" Well ? "
" They have arrested the gardener at the convent
of St. Eloise, and they have every reason to believe that
he is the notorious Paul Jouperts."
The colonel stood up, and his eyes beamed. He came
over to old Sam and shook his hand.
" Mr. Gates," he said, " you are an old brick.. You
will probably hear more of this. You have probably
been the means of delivering something very useful
into our hands. Your own honor is vindicated. A
loving government will probably award you five shil-
lings or a Victoria Cross, or something of that sort.
In the meantime, what can I do for you ? "
Old Sam scratched his chin.
" Oi want to get back 'ome," he said.
" Well, even that might be arranged."
" Oi want to get back 'ome in toime for tea."
" Wliat time do you have tea ? "
" Foive o'clock or thereabouts."
" I see."
A kindly smile came into the eyes of the colonel.
He turned to another officer standing by the table, and
said : '
" Raikes, is any one going across this afteraoon with
dispatches ? "
54 A SOURCE OF IRRITATIOiT
" Yes, sir," replied the young officer. " Commander
Jennings is leaving at three o'clock."
" You might ask him to come and see me."
Within ten minutes a young man in a flight-com-
mander's uniform entered.
" Ah, Jennings," said the colonel, " here is a little
affair which concerns the honor of the British army.
My friend here, Sam Gates, has come over from Halve-
sham in N'orfolk in order to give us valuable informa-
tion. I have promised him that he shall get home to
tea at five o'clock. Can you take a passenger ? "
The young man threw back his head and laughed.
" Lord ! " he exclaimed. " What an old sport ! Yes,
I expect I could just manage it. Where is the God-
forsaken place ? "
A large ordnance-map of ITorfolk (which had been
captured from a German officer) was produced, and the
young man studied it closely.
At three o'clock precisely old Sam, finding himself
something of a hero and quite glad to escape from the
embarrassment which this position entailed, once more
sped skywards in an " airyplane."
At twenty minutes to five he landed once more
amongst Mr. Dodge's swedes. The breezy young air-
man shook hands with him and departed inland. Old
Sam sat down and surveyed the field.
" A noice thing, I must say," he muttered to himself,
as he looked along the lines of unthinned turnips. He
still had twenty minutes, and so he went slowly along
and completed a line which he had commenced in the
A SOURCE OF IRRITATION^ 55
morning. He then deliberately packed up his dinner-
things and his tools, and started out for home.
As he came round the corner of Still way's Meadow,
and the cottage came in view, his niece stepped out of
the copse with a basket on her arm.
" Well, uncle," she said, " is there any noos ? "
It was then that old Sam became really irritated.
" Noos ! " he said. " Noos ! drat the girl ! What
noos should there be? Sixty-nine year I live in these
here parts, hoein' and weedin' and thinnin', and mindin'
Charlie Dodge's sheep. Am I one o' these here story-
book folk havin' noos 'appen to me all the time ? Ain't
it enough, ye silly dab-faced zany, to earn enough to
buy a bite o' some' at to eat, and a glass o' beer, and a
place to rest a's head o'night, without always wantin'
noos, noos, noos ! I tell 'ee, it's this that leads 'ee
to 'alf the troubles in the world. Devil take the noos ! "
And turning his back on her, he went fuming up the
IN the twilight of his mind there stirred the dim
realization of pain. He could not account for
this nor for his lack of desire to thrust the pain
back. It was moreover mellowed by the alluring em-
braces of an enveloping darkness, a darkness which he
idly desired to pierce, and yet which soothed him with
its caliginous touch. Some subconscious voice, too,
kept repeating that it was ridiculous, that he really had
control, that the darkness was due to the fact that it
was night, and that he was in his own bed. In the
room across the passage his mother was sleeping peace-
fully. And yet the pain, which he could not account
for, seemed to press him down and to rack his lower
limbs. There was a soothing interval of utter dark-
ness and forgetfulness, and then the little waves of
febrile consciousness began to lap the shores of distant
dreams, and visions of half-forgotten episodes became
clear and pregnant.
He remembered standing by the French window in
their own dining-room, his mother's dining-room, rap-
ping his knuckles gently on the panes. Beneath the
window was the circular bed of hollyhocks just begin-
ning to flower, and below the terrace the great avenue
of elms nodding lazily in the sun. He could hear the
60 THE BROTHEES
coffee-urn on its brass tripod humming comfortably
behind him while he waited for his mother to come
down to breakfast. He was alone, and the newspaper
in his hand was shaking. War! He could not grasp
the significance of the mad news that lay trembling on
the sheets. His mother entered the room, and as he
hurried across to kiss her he noted the pallor of her
They sat down, and she poured him out his coffee
as she had done ever since he could remember. Then,
fixing her dark eyes on his and toying restlessly with
the beads upon her breast, she said :
" It's true, then, Robin ? "
He nodded, and his eyes wandered to the disfiguring
newspaper. He felt as though he were in some way
responsible for the intrusion of the world calamity into
the sanctity of his mother's life ; he muttered :
" It's a dreadful business, mother."
His gaze wandered again out of the window between
the row of elms. Geddes, the steward, was walking
briskly, followed by two collies. Beyond the slope was
a hay-cart lumbering slowly in the direction of the farm.
" Parsons is rather late with the clover," he thought.
He felt a desire to look at things in little bits ; the large
things seemed overpowering, insupportable. Above all,
his mother must not suffer. It was dreadful that any
one should suffer, but most of all his mother. He must
devote himself to protecting her against the waves of
foreboding that were already evident on her face. But
what could he say ? He knew what was uppermost in
THE BROTHERS 61
lier mind — Giles ! He had no illusions. He knew
that his mother adored his elder brother more passion-
ately than she did himself. It was only natural. He
too adored Giles. Everybody did. Giles was his hero,
his god. Ever since he could remember, Giles had
epitomized to him everything splendid, brave, and chiv-
alrous. He was so glorious to look at, so strong, so
manly. The vision of that morning merged into other
visions of the sim-lit hours with Giles — his pride when
quite a little boy if Giles would play with him; his
pride when he saw Giles in flannels, going in to bat
at cricket ; the terror in his heart when one day he saw
Giles thrown from a horse, and then the passionate
tears of love and thankfulness when he saw him rise
and run laughing after the beast. He remembered that
when Giles went away to school his mother found him
ci*ying, and told him he must not be sentimental. But
he could not help it. He used to visualize the daily
life of Giles and vTrite to him long letters which his
brother seldom answered. Of course he did not expect
Giles to answer; he would have no time. He was one
of the most popular boys at school and a champion at
Then the vision of that morning when the newspaper
brought its disturbing news vanished with the memory
of his mother standing by his side, her arm round his
waist, as they gazed together across a field of nodding
com. . . .
Troubled visions, then, of Giles returning post-haste
from Oxford, of himself in the village talking to every
62 THE BROTHEES
one he met about " the dreadful business," speaking to
the people on the fai-m, and to old Joe Walters, the
wheelwright, whose voice he could remember saying :
" Av, tha' woan't tak' thee, Master Robin."
He remembered talking to Mr. Meads at the general
shop, and to the Reverend Quirk, whose precious voice
he could almost hear declaiming:
" I presume your brother will apply for a commis-
He had wandered then up on to the downs and tried to
think about "the dreadful business" in a detached
way, but it made him tremble. He listened to the bees
droning on the heather, and saw the smoke from the
hamlet over by Wodehurst trailing peacefully to the
sky. " The dreadful business " seemed incredible.
It was some days later that he met his friend Jerry
Lawson wandering up there, with a terrier at his heels.
Lawson was a sculptor, a queer chap, whom most people
thought a fanatic. Jerry blazed down on him :
" This is hell, Robin. Hell let loose. It could have
been avoided. It's a trade war. At the back of it all
is business, business, business. And millions of boys
will be sacrificed for commercial purposes. Our policy
is just as much at fault as — theirs. Look what we
did at — "
For an hour he listened to the diatribe of Lawson,
tremulously silent. He had nothing to reply. He de-
tested politics and the subtleties of diplomacy. He had
left school early owing to an illness which had affected
his heart. He had spent his life upon these downs
THE BROTHERS 63
and among his books. He could not adjust the gentle
impulses of his being to the violent demands of that
foreboding hour. When Lawson had departed, he had
sat there a long time. Was Lawson right ?
He wandered home, determining that he would read
more history, more political economy; he would get to
the root of " this dreadful business."
He wanted to talk to Giles, to find out what he really
thought, but the radiant god seemed unapproachable;
or rode roughshod over the metaphysical doubts of his
brother, and laughed. Giles had no misgivings. His
conscience was dynamically secure. Besides, there was
" the mater."
" When I go, Rob, you must do all you can to buck
the mater up." He had looked so splendid when he said
that, with his keen, strong face, alert and vibrant, Robin
had not had it in his heart to answer. And then had
come lonely days, reading news books and occasionally
talking with Lawson. Wlien Giles went off to his train-
ing he spent more time with his mother, but they did not
discuss the dreadful thing which had come into their
lives. His mother became restlessly busy, making
strange garments, knitting, attending violently to the
demands of the household. Sometimes in the evening
he would read to her, and they would sit trying to hide
from each other the sound of the rain pattering on the
leaves outside. He had not dared talk to her of the
misgivings in his heart or of his arguments with
Lawson. . . .
And then a vision came of a certain day in October.
64r THE BROTHERS
The wind was blowing the rain in fitful gusts from the
sea. He was in a sullen, perverse mood. Watching
his mother's face that morning, a sudden fact concerning
her had come home to him. It had aged, aged during
those three months, and the gray hair on that dis-
tinguished head had turned almost white. He felt
within him a surging conflict of opposing forces. The
hour of climacteric had arrived. He must see it once
and for all clearly and unalterably. He had put on his
mackintosh then and gone out into the rain. He
walked up to the long wall by Gray's farm, where on a
fine day he could see the sea; but not to-day, it was
too wet and misty ; but he could be conscious of it, and
feel its breath beating on his temples.
He stood there, then, for several hours, under the
protection of the wall, listening to the wind and to the
gulls who went shrieking before it. He could not re-
member where he had wandered to after that, except
that for some time he was leaning on a rock, watching
the waves crashing over the point at Youlton Bay. And
then in the evening he had written to Lawson.
" I want to see this thing in its biggest, broadest
sense, dear Jerry."
He knew he had commenced the letter in this way,
for it was a phrase he had repeated to himself at inter-
" Like you, I hate war and the thought of war. But,
good heaven! need I say that? Every one must hate
war, I suppose. I agree with you that human life is
sacred. . . . But would it be sacred if it stood still ? —
THE BROTHEES 65
if it were stagnant? — if it were just a mass affair?
It is only sacred because it is an expression of spiritual
evolution. It must change, go on, lead somewhere. . . .
" Don't you think that we on this island have as great
a right to fight for what we represent as any other
nation ? With all our faults and poses and hypocrisies,
haven't we subscribed something to the commonwealth
of humanity ? — something of honor, and justice, and
equity? I don't believe you will deny all this. But
even if you did, and even if I agreed with you, I still
should not be convinced that it was not right to fight.
As I walked up by the chalk-pit near Gueldstone Head,
and saw the stone-gray cottages at Lulton nestling in
the hollow of the downs, and smelt the dear salt damp-
ness of it all, and felt the lovely tenderness of the eve-
ning light, I thought of Giles and what he represents,
and of my mother, and what she represents, and of all
the people I know and love with all their faults, and I
made up my mind that I would fight for it in any case,
in the same way that I would fight for a woman I loved,
even if I knew she were a harlot. . . ."
Lying there in his bed, these ebullient thoughts re-
acted on him. Drowsiness stole over his limbs, and he
felt his heart vibrating oddly. There seemed to be a
sound of drums, beating a tattoo, of a train rumbling
along an embankment. And in fancy he was on his
way to London again, with the memory of his mother's
eyes as she had said :
" Come back safely, Robin boy."
The memory of that day was terrifying indeed. He
66 THE BROTHERS
was wandering about a vast building near Whitehall,
tremulously asking questions, wretchedly conscious that
people looked at him and laughed. And then that long
queue of waiting men ! Some were so dirty, so obscene,
and he felt that most of them were sniggering at him.
A sergeant spoke sharply, and he shuddered and spilt
some ink on one of the many forms he had to fill up.
Every one seemed rough and violent. After many hours
of waiting he was shown into another room and told to
strip. He sat on a fonn with a row of other men, feel-
ing incredibly naked and very much ashamed. The
window was open and his teeth chattered with the
cold and the nervous tension of the desperate experience.
A doctor spoke kindly to him, and an old major at a
table asked him one or two questions. He was dis-
missed and waited interminably in another room. At
last an orderly entered and called his name among some
others, and handed him a card. He was rejected.
He returned to Wodehurst that evening shivering
and in a mood of melancholy dejection. He was an
outcast among his fellows, a being with a great instinct
towards expression, but without the power to back it up.
The whole thing appeared so utterly unheroic, almost
sordid. He wondered about Giles. If presenting one-
self at a recruiting office was such a terrifying ordeal,
what must the actual life of a soldier be? Of course
Giles was different, but — the monotony, the cheerless-
ness of barrack life! And then the worse things be-
After that he would devour the papers and tramp
THE BROTHERS 67
feverishly on the downs; he tried to obtain work at a
munition factory, and was refused; made himself ill
sewing bandages and doing chaotic odd jobs. And all
the time he thought of Giles, Giles, Giles. Wliat Giles
was doing, how Giles was looking, whether he was un-
happy, and whether they spoke to him brusquely, like
the sergeant had to himself in London.
Then came the vision of the day when Giles came and
bade farewell, on his way to France — a terrible day.
He could not bring himself to look into his mother's
eyes. He felt that if he did so he would be a trespasser
peering into the forbidden sanctuary of a holy place.
He hovered around her and murmured little banalities
about Giles's kit, the train he was to catch, the parcel
he was to remember to pick up in London. When it
came to parting time, he left those two alone and fled
out to the trap that was to take his brother to the
station. He had waited there till Giles came, rimning
and laughing and waving his hand. He drove with
him to the station, and dared not look back to see his
mother standing by the window. They were silent till
the trap had passed a mile beyond the village; then
Giles had laughed, and talked, and rallied him on his
" I'll soon be back, old man. Buck the mater up,
won't you? Whoa, Tommy, what are you shying at?
. . . By jove ! won't it be grand on the sea to-night ! "
Oh, Giles ! Giles ! was there ever any one so splendid,
so radiant, so uncrushable ? His heart, went out to his
brother at that moment, and he could not answer.
68 THE BROTHERS
So closely were his own sympathies interwoven with
the feelings of his brother that he hardly noticed the
moment of actual separation on the platform. His
heart was with Giles all the way up to London, then in
the train again, and upon the sea with him that night.
In his imagination, quickened by a close study of all
the literature he could get hold of on the actual condi-
tions out there, he followed his brother through every
phase of his new life. He was with him at the base, in
rest camps, and in dug-outs, and more especially was
he with him in those zig-zagging trenches smelling of
dampness and decay. On dark nights he would hear
the scuttle of rats dashing through the wet holes. He
would hear the shriek of shells, and the tearing and
ripping of the earth. He would start up and try to
make his way through the slime of a battered trench
which always seemed to be crumbling, crumbling. In
his nostrils would hang the penetrating smell of gases
that had the quality of imparting terror. So vivid were
his impressions of these things that he could not detach
his own suffering from that of his brother. There were
times when he became convinced that either he or Giles
was a chimera. One of them did not exist. . . . He
seemed to stand for an eternity peering through a slit
in a mud wall and gazing at another mud wall, and
feeling the penetrating ooze of dying vegetation creep-
ing into his body. Above his head would loom dark
poles and barbarous entanglements. It was as though
everything had vanished from the world but symbols of
fear and cruelty, which rioted insanely against the
THE BROTHERS G9
heavens, as though everything that man had ever leamt
had been forgotten and destroyed ; and he growled there
in the wet earth, flaunting the feral passions of his
remote ancestry. And the cold! — the cold was ter-
rible. . . . He remembered a strange thing happening
at that time. During some vague respite from the re-
cun-ing horror of these imaginings, he had, he believed,
been walking out through the meadows, when a numb-
ness seemed to creep over his lower limbs. He could
not get back. He had lain helpless in a field when
George Carter, one of the farm hands, had found him
and helped him home. He had been very ill then,
and his mother had sent for Doctor Ewing. He could
not remember exactly what the doctor said or what
treatment he prescribed, or how long he had lain there
in a semi-conscious state, but he vividly remembered
hearing the doctor say one day : " It's very curious,
madam. I was, as you know, out at the Front for some
time with the Red Cross, and this boy has a fever quite
peculiar to the men at the Eront. Has he been out
standing in the wet mud ? " He could not remember
what his mother answered. He wanted to say : " JSTo,
no, it's not I. It's Giles," but he had not the strength,
and afterwards wondered whether it were an illusion.
He knew that many weeks went by, and still they
would not let him walk. That was his greatest trouble,
for walking helped him. When he could walk, he
could sometimes live in a happier world of make-believe,
but in bed the epic tragedy unfolded itself in every
livid detail, intensely real.
70 THE BROTHERS
Long periods of time went by, and still he was not
allowed to leave his room. His mother would come and
sit with him and read him Giles's letters. They were
wonderful letters, full of amusing stories of " rags "
and tales of splendid feeds obtained under difficult
circumstances. Of the conditions that existed so
vividly in Robin's mind there was not one word. To
read Giles's letters one would imagine that he was
away on a holiday with a party of young undergradu-
ates, having the time of their lives. But the letters
had no reality to him. He knew. He had seen it all.
Time became an unrecognizable factor. Faces came
and went. His mother was always there, and there
appeared another kind face whom he believed to be a
nurse; and sometimes Jerry Lawson would come and
sit by the bed, and talk to him about the beauties of the
quattrocento and other things he had forgotten, things
which belonged to a dead world. . . .
Lying there in bed, he could not detach these impres-
sions very clearly, nor determine how long ago they had
taken place. There appeared to be an unaccountable
shifting of the folds of darkness, a slipping away of
vital purposes, and a necessity for focusing upon some
immediate development. This necessity seemed, some-
how, emphasized by the overpowering pain that had
begun to rack his limbs, more especially his right foot.
He wanted to call out, but some voice told him that it
would be useless. The night was too impenetrable and
heavy, his voice would only die away against its inky
pall. There was besides a certain soothing tenderness
THE BROTHERS Tl
about it, as though it were caressing him and telling
him that he must wait in patience, and all would be
well. He knew now that he was sleeping in the open,
and that would account for the chilling coldness. At
the same time it was not exactly the open. There were
walls about and jagged profiles, but apparently no roof
or distances. The ground was hard like concrete. He
must be infinitely patient and pray for the dawn. . . .
He began to feel the dawn before he saw it. It came
like the caressing sigh of a woman as she wakes and
thinks of her lover in some foreign clime. Somewhere
at hand a bird was twittering, aware too of the coming
miracle. Almost imperceptibly things began to form
themselves. He was certainly behind a wall, but there
was a door, with the upper part leaning in. A phrase
occurred to his mind: "The white arm of dawn is
creeping over the door." A lovely passage! He had
read it in some Irish book. The angle at the top of
the door was like a bent elbow. It was very, very like
the white arm — of some Irish queen, perhaps, or of the
Mother of men — a white arai creeping over the door,
and in its whiteness delicately touching the eyelids of
the sleeping inmates, whilst a voice in a soft cadence
whispered : " Awake ! pull back the door, and let me
show you the silver splendors of the unborn day."
A heavy dew was falling, and the cold seemed bitter,
whilst all around he became aware of the slow unfolding
of desolation; except for the leaning door, nothing
seemed to take a recognizable shape, everything was
jagged and violent in its form and exuded the cloying
72 THE BROTHERS
odors of death. Somewhere faintly he thought he heard
the sound of a comet, bizarre and fantastic, and having
no connection with the utter stillness of this place of
His eye searched the broken darkness in fugitive pur-
suit of a solution of the formless void. Quite near him,
apparently, was an oblong board which amidst this
wilderness of destruction seemed to have escaped un-
touched. As the dim violet light began to reveal cer-
tain definite concrete things, he became aware that on
the board were some Roman letters. He looked at them
for some time unseeingly. The word written there
stamped itself without meaning on his brain. The word
was : " EILLES." He repeated it to himself over and
over again. The earth seemed to rock again with a
sullen, vibrating passion, as though irritated that the
work of destruction was not entirely complete. Things
already destroyed seemed to be subjected to further
transmutation of formlessness. But still the board re-
mained intact, and he fixed his eyes on it. It imbued
him with a strange sense of tranquillity. Filles! A
little word, but it became to him a link to cosmic
things. The desire to reason passed, as the ability to
suffer passed. Across the mists of time he seemed to
hear the laughter of children. He could almost see
them pass. There were Jeannette and Marie, with long
black pigtails and check frocks, and just behind them,
struggling with a heavy satchel, little fair-haired Ba-
bette. How they laughed, those children! and yet he
could not determine whether their laughter came from
THE BKOTHERS 73
the years that had passed or from the years that were
to come. But wherever tlie laughter came from, it
seemed the only thing the powers of darkness could not
destroy. He lay then for a long time, conscious of a
peace greater than any he could have conceived. And
the white arm of dawn crept over the door.
The crowd who habitually came down by the after-
noon train trickled out of the station and vanished.
The master of Wodehurst came limping through the
doorway. His face was bronzed and perhaps a little
thinner, but his eyes laughed, and his voice rang out
to the steward waiting in the dog-cart:
" Hullo ! Sam, how are you ? "
He was leaning on two sticks, and a porter followed
with his trunks.
" Can I help you up, sir ? "
" No, it's all right, old man ; I can manage."
He pulled himself up and laughed because he hit his
knee upon the mudguard.
" It's good to be home, Sam."
" Yes ; I expect your mother will be glad, sir," an-
swered Geddes, touching up the horse. " And so will
we all, I'm thinking."
They clattered down the road, and the high spirits
of the wounded warrior rose. He asked a thousand
questions, and insisted on taking the reins before they
had gone far. It was dusk when they began to draw
near Wodehurst ; a sudden silence had fallen on Giles.
The steward realized the reason. He coughed uncom-
U THE BROTHERS
fortably. They were passing within a hundred yards
of Wodehiirst Church. Suddenly he said in his deep
" We were all very sorry, sir, about Master Robin."
The eyes of the soldier softened; he murmured:
" Poor old chap ! "
" I feel I ought to tell you, sir. It was a very queer
thing. But one day that young Mr. Lawson — you
know, the sculptor — about a week after it all hap-
pened, he must have got up at daybreak, I should say —
nobody saw him do it. He must have gone down there
to the churchyard with his tools, and what do you think ?
He carved something on the stone — on Mr. Robin's
Giles said quickly : " Carved ! What ? "
" He carved just under the name and date, ' He died
for England.' "
" ' He died for England ! ' He carved that on
Robin's grave ? What did he mean ? "
" I don't know, sir."
" Really ! What a rum chap he must be ! "
" We didn't know what to do about it, sir. I saw it,
and I didn't like to tell your mother, and nobody
likes to interfere with a tombstone, it seems profane-
like. So there it is to this day."
" Thank you, Sam. I'll think about it."
" Have you had much pain with your foot, sir ? "
Giles laughed, and flicked the horse.
" Oh, nothing to write home about, Sam. I had a
touch of fever, you know. I didn't tell the mater. It
THE BROTHERS 75
was later on that I got this smash of my right foot.
It happened at — I've forgotten the name ; some
damned little village on the Flemish border. I was
lucky in a way, the shrapnel missed me. It was falling
stonework that biffed up my foot. There was a build-
ing, a sort of school, I should think. It got blown to
smithereens. It was rather a nasty mess-up. I was
there for seven hours before they found me — Hullo !
I see the mater standing at the gate."
The horse nearly bolted with the violence of Giles's
waving arms. . . .
The dinner — all the dishes that Giles specially loved
— was finished. With his arm round his mother's waist
and a cigar in the corner of his mouth, he led her
into the warm comfort of the white-paneled drawing-
" You won't mind my smoking in here to-night,
mater ? "
" My dear boy ! "
They sat in silence, watching the red glow of the log
fire. Suddenly Giles said:
" I say, mater, do you know an awfully rum thing
Geddes told me?"
His mother looked up.
" I think perhaps I know. Do you mean in the —
cemetery ? "
Giles nodded, puffing at his cigar in little nervous
" Yes. I knew. I saw it, of course. I've sat and
/re THE BEOTHEES
" Such a mm thing to do ! What do you think we
ought to do about it, mater ? "
He saw his mother lean forward ; the waves of silver
hair seemed to enshrine the beautiful lines of her drawn
face ; her voice came whispering :
" Hadn't we better leave it, Giles ? . . . Perhaps he
really did die for England ? "
The young man glanced at her quickly. He saw her
aged and broken by the war. He thought of his
brother. . . . Then he caught sight of his own face in
the mirror, lean, youthful, vigorous. The old tag
flashed through his mind :
" They also serve who only stand and wait."
He thnist away that emotional expression, and in
the manner of his kind stayed silent, rigid, with his
back to the fire. And suddenly he said:
" I say, mater, won't you play me something ?
Chopin, or one of those Eussian Johnnies you play so
rippingly ? "
OLD IRON "
" OLD IRON "
YOU know how the story goes, of course. Hus-
l)an(i and wife just about to retire to bed.
Wife yawns, husband knocks out his pipe on
the gi-ate and remarks:
" Well, better turn in, I suppose."
" Yes " ; then adds languidly :
" I meant to call round to ask the Cartwrights to
dinner on Thursday."
Husband, after prolonged pause :
" I'll pop round and ask them now, if you like. They
never go to bed till very late,"
" I wish you would, dear."
Husband pulls on a cloth cap and goes out. Wife
yaAvns again, and picks up The Ladies' Boudoir, and
idly examines charmeuse gown, and notes the prices of
gloves at Foxtrot's & Fieldfem's. Yawns again more
audibly. Collects sewing and places it in work-basket.
Takes the kitten out and locks it up in the scullery.
Yawns, and walks languidly upstairs. Turns on the
light and spends fifteen minutes examining face at vari-
ous angles in the glass. Begins to disrobe. Thinks
sleepily : " Tom's a long time." Brushes out her hair
and admires it considerably. Conceives a new way of
dressing it for future festivities. Disrobes farther.
80 " OLD lEON "
Yawns. Disrobes completely and re-robes — dressing-
" It's too bad being all this time ! "
Vitality slightly stirred in the direction of resent-
ment and a kind of mild apprehension. Lies on the
bed and drowsily reviews the experiences of the day.
Dreams . . . Suddenly starts with a consciousness of
cold. Gropes for her wrist-watch. A quarter past
one! Jumps from the bed, feeling the cold hand of
fear on her heart. Runs downstairs and stares help-
lessly out of the front door. Pauses to consider a thou-
sand possible eventualities. Returns to bedroom and
completely re-robes, not forgetting to do her hair neatly
and powder her nose. Puts on cloak and goes out.
Cartwrights' house all in darkness. Bangs on the
front door and rings bell. Head of old Mr. Cartwright
at first-floor window:
"Who the devil's that?"
" It's me. Wliere's Tom ? "
" Tom ! Haven't seen him for weeks ! "
" Good God ! Let me in."
Cartwright family aroused. Panic. Painting scene
in drawing-room. Brandy, smelling-salts and eau-de-
cologne. Young George Cartwright mounts his bi-
cycle — rides to the police-station; on the way talks
to policeman on point duty. ISTo, no one heard anything
of a thin man with a snuff-colored mustache. At police-
station, no accidents so far reported. Chief inspector
will make a note and await developments. Night
passes, and the following day. No news.
" OLD IRON " 81
"Weeks, months, years elapse. Eight years slide
easily by. The wife sui"vives her grief. She mar-
ries the local organist, a blond and commendable young
man. They continue to live in the wife's house. Chil-
dren gather round her knee. One, two, three, twins,
an interval, six, seven handsome blond children. They
Twenty-two years elapse. They are sitting at tea.
The father, the mother and the oldest son, a handsome
young man in a gray flannel suit. He kisses his mother
and says :
" I must go now, mother dear. I have to take a
He goes out (presumably to the Bible-class). The
mother smiles with pride, the father glows with be-
nignity and helps himself to another buttered muffin.
Everything perfect. Suddenly the door opens, and
an old man in a long gray beard and perambulating
manner wanders into the room. He stares at the wife,
and mumbles :
" Did you say Thursday or Friday ? . . . My mem-
ory is not what it was. . . ."
And the wife stares at the old man, and then at the
blond organist. And the blond organist stares at the
motlier of his beautiful children, and then at the bearded
interloper. And they all stare at each other and feel
The stoiy is familiar to you? Well, perhaps so.
It is the story of the eternal triangle, the most useful
82 "OLD IRON"
pattern of geometrical forms in the construction of a
Heigho ! the trouble with human triangles is that they
are never equilateral. Two sides together are invari-
ably greater than the third side.
Jim Canning was the third side of a triangle, and he
got flattened out. In fact, his wife used to flatten
him out on every possible occasion. She was bigger
than he, and she was aided by the tertium quid, Ted
WooUams, who was nothing more or less than a pro-
fessional pugilist. What was Jim to do ? In every
well-conducted epic the hero performs physical feats
which leave you breathless. He is always tall and
strong, and a bit too quick with the rapier for any
villain who crosses his path. But what about a hero
who is small and elderly, of poor physique, short-
sighted, asthmatical, with corns which impede his gait ?
You may say that he has no place in the heroic arena.
He should clear out, go and get on with his job, and
leave heroism to people who know how to manage the
stuif. And yet there was something heroic in the heart
of Jim Canning: a quick sympathy, and an instinct for
He used to keep a second-hand furniture shop, which,
you must understand, is a very different thing from an
antique shop. Jim's furniture had no determinate
character such as that which is associated with the name
of Chippendale, Sheraton or Heppelwhite. It was just
" furniture." Well-worn sofas, broken chairs and tables,
mattresses with the stuflfing exuding from holes, rusty
"OLD IRON" 83
brass beds with the knobs missing, broken pots and
mirrors and dumb-bells ; even clothes, and screws, false
teeth and bird-cages, and ancient iimbrellas. But his
specialty was old iron. Trays and trays and baskets
filled with, scraps of old iron.
His establishment used to be knoAATi in Camden Town
at that time as " The Muck Shop." At odd times of
the day you might observe his small pathetic figure
trundling a barrow laden with the spoils of some hard-
pressed inhabitant. "What a tale the little shop seemed
to tell ! Struggle and poverty, homes broken up, drink,
ugly passions, desperate sacrifices — a battered array
of the symbols of distress. And, somehow, in his per-
son these stories seemed to be embodied. One felt that
he was sorry for the people whose property he bought.
He was always knowm as a fair dealer. He paid a
fair price and never took advantage of ignorance.
His marriage was a failure from the very first. She
was a big, strapping woman, the daughter of a local
greengrocer. Twelve years younger than Jim, vain,
frivolous, empty-headed and quarrelsome. Her reasons
for marrying him were obscure. Probably she had ar-
rived at the time when she wanted to marry, and Jim
was regarded as a successful shop-keeper who could
keep her in luxury. He was blinded by her physical
attractions, and tried his utmost to believe that his wife
was everything to be desired. Disillusionment came
within the first month of their married life, at the mo-
ment, indeed, when Clara realized that her husband's
business was not so thriving as she had been led to
84 " OLD IRON "
believe. She immediately accused him of deceiving
her. Then she began to snlk and neglect him. She
despised his manner of conducting business — his con-
scientiousness and sense of fair-dealing;.
" If you'd put some ginger into it," she once re-
marked, " and not always be thinking about the feelings
of the tripe you buy from, we might have a house in the
Camden Road and a couple of servants."
This had never been Jim's ambition. Many years
ago he had attended a sale at Shorwell Green, on the
borders of Sussex, a glorious spot near the downs,
amidst lime-trees and little running streams. It had
been the dream of his life that one day he would retire
there, with the woman he loved — and her children.
When he put the matter to Clara, she laughed him to
" Not half ! " she said. " Catch me living among
butterflies and blinking cows. The Camden Road is
Jim sighed, and went on trundling his barrow.
Well, there it was! If the woman he had married
desired it, he must do what she wanted. In any case
it was necessary to begin to save. But with Clara he
found it exceedingly difficult to begin to save. She
idled her day away, bought trinkets, neglected her
domestic offices, went to the pictures, and sucked sweets.
Any attempt to point out to her the folly of her ways
only led to bitter recriminations, tears and savage dis-
plays of temper, even physical violence to her husband.
Then there came a day when Jim fondly believed
" OLD IRON " 85
that the conditions of their married life would be
ameliorated. A child was born, a girl, and they called
her Annie. Annie became the apple of his eye. He
would hurry back from the shop to attend at Annie's
bath. He would creep in at night and kiss the warm
skin of her little skull. He would think of her as he
pottered around amidst his broken chairs and tables,
and utter little croons of anticipatory pleasure. Annie !
She would grow up and be the mainstay of his life. He
would work and struggle for her. Her life should be
a path of roses and happiness. His wife, too, appeared
to improve upon the advent of Annie. For a time the
baby absorbed her. She displayed a kind of wild
animal joy in its existence. She nursed it and fondled
it, and did not seem to resent the curtailment of her
pleasures. It was an additional mouth to feed ; never-
theless their expenses did not seem to greatly increase,
owing probably to Clara's modified way of living.
Four years of comparative happiness followed. Jim
began to save. Oh ! very slowly ; very, very slowly.
He still had less than three hundred pounds put on one
side for — that vague future of settled security. But
still it was a solid beginning. In another ten or fifteen
years he would still be — well, not quite an old man ;
an active man, he hoped. If ho could save only one
hundred pounds a year!
It was at this point that Ted Woollams appeared on
the scene. He was the son of a manager of a Swimming
Bath. On Sundays he used to box in " Fairyland "
for purses of various amounts — he was a redoubtable
86 "OLD IRON"
middle-weight. During the week he swaggered about
Camden Town in new check suits, his fingers glittering
with rings. He met Clara one evening at a public
dance. The mutual attraction appears to have been
instantaneous. Thej danced together the whole eve-
ning, and he saw her home.
And then began the squeezing out of the third side
of the triangle. Jim was not strong enough for them.
At first he professed to see nothing in the friendship.
He described Ted as " a jolly young fellow, a great pal
of my wife's." And Ted treated him with a certain
amount of respect. He called in at odd times, stayed
to meals, drank Jim's beer, and smoked Jim's tobacco.
The triangle was quite intact. It was Annie who caused
the first disruption. She disliked the prize-fighter, and
screamed at the sight of him. This led to reprisals
when he had gone, and Jim's championship of the child
did not help to cement the always doubtful nature of the
affection between husband and wife. There were cross
words and tears, and once she pushed him over a chair,
and, in the fall, cut his temple.
A few days later, Ted Woollams called in a great
state of agitation. He wished to see Jim alone. It
appeared that a wonderful opportunity had occuired to
him. It was a complicated story about a quantity of
bonded brandy which he had a chance of acquiring and
selling at an enormous profit. He wanted to bon*ow
fifty pounds till Saturday week, when he would pay
Jim back sixty. Jim said he would lend him the fifty,
but he didn't want any interest.
"OLD IRON" 87
When Saturday week came, Ted said the deal had
fallen through, but he would let him have the money
back the following Saturday. In the meantime he
came to supper nearly every night. Sometimes he drank
too much beer.
Then Clara began to dress for the part. She bought
expensive frocks, and had the account sent in to Jim.
She neglected the child.
The months drifted by, and Ted was always going to
pay, but he became more and more part and parcel
of the household. Jim's savings began to dwindle. He
protested to both his wife and Ted, but they treated him
with indifference. The boxer began to abuse his fa-
miliarity. He would frequently tell Jim that he was
not wanted in the drawing-room after supper. When
spoken to about the money he laughed and said :
" Oh, you've got plenty, old 'un. Lend us another
fiver." .- -M
On one occasion Jim was foolish enough to lend
him another ten pounds, under the spell of some heart-
rending story about a poor woman in the street where
W^oollams lived. This lopsided triangle held together
for nearly four years. Jim was unhappy and dis-
tracted. He did not know how to act. He could not
leave his wife, for the sake of the child. If he turned
her out — and he had no legal power to do so — she
would probably take Annie with her. And the child
was devoted to him. They were great friends, and it
was only this friendship which prevented him indulging
in some mad act. Several times he ordered Woollams
88 " OLD IKON "
out of the house and forbade him to come again, but the
boxer laughed at him and called him an old fool. He
knew that his wife was practically keeping the man.
They went to cinemas together, and often disappeared
for the whole day, but she always returned at night,
although it was sometimes two or three in the morning
before she did so. Jim had no proof of actual unfaith-
fulness. !N"either could he afford to hire detectives,
a course of action which in any case appeared to him
distasteful. Far from saving a hundred pounds a year,
he was spending more than his income. His savings
had dwindled to barely forty pounds. His business
was stagnant, but still he trundled his barrow hither
and thither, calling out, " Old iron ! old iron ! " and he
struggled to pay the fair price.
During a great period of his life Jim had enjoyed
an unaccountable but staunch friendship with a gentle-
man named Isaac Rubens. Isaac Rubens was a Jew in
a slightly similar way of business to himself, and he
conducted a thriving house at the corner of the Holy
Angel Road. Isaac was in many respects a very re-
markable man. Large, florid, and puffy, with keen
eagle eyes and an enormous nose, he was a man of
profound knowledge of the history and value of ohjets
d'art. He was moreover a man of his word. He was
never known to give or accept a written contract, and
never known to break a verbal one. The friendship
between these two was in many respects singular.
Isaac was a keen man of business, and Jim was of very
little use to him. Isaac's furniture was the real thing,
" OLD IRON " 89
with names and pedigrees. He did not deal in old iron
but in stones and jewels and ornaments. Nevertheless
he seemed to find in Jim's society a certain pleasure.
Jim would call on his rounds and, leaving his barrow
out in the road, would spend half-an-hour or so chatting
with the Jew across the counter.
Sometimes after supper they would call on each other
and smoke a pipe and discuss the vagaries of their call-
ing, or the more abstract problems of life and death.
When this trouble came upon Jim he immediately
repaired to his friend's house and told him the whole
" Oh, dear ! oh, dear ! This is a bad business ! a
bad business ! " exclaimed Isaac, when it was over.
His moist eyes glowed amidst the general humidity of
his face. " How can I advise you ? An erring wife
is the curse of God. You cannot turn her away without
knowledge. Thank God, my Lena. . . . But there!
among my people such lapses are rare. You have no
evidence of unfaithfulness ? "
" You must be gentle with her, gentle but firm.
Point out the error of her ways."
" I am always doing that, Isaac."
" She may get over it — a passing infatuation. Such
" If it wasn't for the child ! "
" Yes, yes, I understand. Oh, dear ! oh, dear ! very
distressing, my friend. If I can be of any assist-
ance — "
90 " OLD IRON "
He thrust out his large hands helplessly. It is the
kind of trouble in which no man can help another, and
each knew it. Jim hovered by the door.
" It's nice to have some one to — talk to, anyway,"
he muttered; then he picked up his cap and shuffled
away, calling out:
"Old iron! Old iron!"
Annie was nine when the climax came. An intelli-
gent, pretty child, with dark hair and quick, impulsive
manners. Her passionate preference for her father did
not tend to smooth the troubles of the household. She
attended the grammar-school and had many girl-friends.
She saw very little of her mother.
One evening Jim returned home late. He had been
on a visit to his friend, Isaac. He found Annie seated
on the bottom stair, in her nightdress. Her face was
very pale and set, her eyes bright. She had been cry-
ing. Wlien she saw her father she gasped :
"Daddy! ... Oh, Daddy!"
He seized her in his arms and whispered :
" What is it, my dear ? "
Then she cried quietly while he held her. He did
not attempt to hurry her. At last she got her voice un-
der control and gasped quietly:
" I had gone to bed. I don't know why it was. I
got restless in bed. I came down again softly. I
peeped into the sitting-room. . . . Oh, Daddy ! "
" What ? What, my love ? "
" That man. . . . That man and — "
" Your mother ? "
" OLD IRON " 91
" He was — "
" He was kissing her and — Oh ! "
Jim clutched his child and pressed her head against
" I went in, . . . He struck me."
" What ! "
"He struck me because I wouldn't promise not to
"He struck jou, eh? He stinick you! That man
struck you, eh ? "
" Yes, Daddy."
"Where is he?"
" They're — up there now. I'm frightened."
" Go to bed, my love. Go to bed."
He carried her up the stairs and fondled her, and
put her into bed.
" It's all right, my love. Go to sleep. Pleasant
dreams. It's all right. Daddy will look after you."
Then he went downstairs.
A shout of laughter greeted him through the door of
the sitting-room. He gripped the handle and walked
deliberately in. Ted Woollams was stretching himself
luxuriously on the sofa. His heavy sensual face ap-
peared puffy and a little mussed. Clara was lying
back in an easy chair, smoking a cigarette. Jim did
not speak. He walked up to Ted and without any
preliminary explanation struck him full on the nose
with his clenched fist. For a moment the boxer ap-
peared more surprised than anything. His eyes nar-
9'2 " OLD mO^ "
rowed, then the pain of the blow appeared to sting him.
He rose from the sofa with a growl. As he advanced
upon Jim, the latter thought:
" He's going to kill me. What a fool I was not to
strike him with a poker ! "
He thrust out his arms in an ineffectual defense.
There was something horribly ugly, ugly and revolting
in the animal-like lurch of the man bearing down on
him . . . the demon of an inevitable doom. Jim
struck wildly at the other's arms, at the same time
" My little girl ! I promised to look after her."
A jarring blow above the heart staggered him, and as
he began to crumple forward he had a quick vision of
the more destroying fate, the something which came
crashing to his jaw. He heard his wife scream; then
darkness enveloped him.
A long and very confused period followed. His
glimpses of consciousness were intermittent and ac-
companied by pain. He heard people talking, and
they appeared strangers to him. There was a lot of
talking going on, quarreling, perhaps. When he was
once more a complete master of his brain he realized
abruptly that he was in the ward of a hospital. His
jaw was strapped up tight and was giving him great
pain; a nurse was feeding him through a silver tube.
Two of his teeth were missing. He wanted to talk to
her, but found he could not speak. Then he recalled
the incident of his calamity. Well, there it was. He
had been brought up in a hard school. Old iron!
" OLD IRON » 93
The instinct of self-preservation prompted him to bide
his time. Doubtless his jaw was broken; a long job,
but he would get well again. At the end of the jour-
ney Annie awaited him. What was the child doing
now? Who was looking after her? He passed
through periods of mental anguish and misgiving, and
then long periods of drowsy immobility. Night suc-
ceeded day. To his surprise, on the following after-
noon, his wife appeared. She came and sat by the bed,
and said :
"Going on all right?"
He nodded. She looked uneasily round, then whis-
" You needn't have taken on like that. Ted's going
off to America, to-morrow — fulfilling engagements."
Jim stared at the ceiling, then closed his eyes. Ted
no longer interested him. He wanted Annie, and he
could not ask for her. Clara stayed a few moments,
chatted with the nurse, and vanished. Why had she
come? Later on, he was removed to the operating
theater, and they re-set his jaw. The shift of time
again became uncertain. A long while later he re-
membered a kindly-faced man in a white overall say-
" Well, old chap, who struck you this blow ? "
He bent his ear down to Jim's lips, and the latter
managed to reply:
" A stranger."
Isaac came, humid and concerned, and pressed his
94 " OLD IKON "
" Well, well, I've found you, old friend ! A neigh-
bor told me. Distressing indeed. They say you must
not talk. Well, what can I do ? "
Jim indicated with his hands that he wished to write
something down. Isaac produced an envelope and a
pencil, and he vsTote:
" Go and see my little gal Annie. Send her to me.
Keep an eye on her."
Isaac nodded gravely, and went away.
There appeared an eternity of time before the child
came, but when she did all his dark forebodings van-
ished. She came smiling up the ward, and kissed him.
They held each other's hands for a long time before she
" They would not tell me where you were. It was
old Mr. Eubens. Oh, Daddy, are you getting better ? "
Yes, he was getting better. Much better. During
the last two minutes he had improved enormously. He
felt that he could speak. He managed to mumble:
" How are you, my love ? "
" All right. Mother has been very cross. That
horrid man has gone away. Mr. Rubens said you hurt
your face. How did it happen, Daddy ? "
" I slipped on the stairs, my dear, and fell."
Annie's eyes opened very wide, but she did not speak.
He knew by her manner that she did not believe him.
At the back of her eyes there still lurked something of
that horror which haunted them on the night when she
had discovered " that horrid man " embracing her
mother. It was the same night that her father
" OLD IRON " 95
" slipped on the stairs." The child was too astute to
dissociate the two incidents, but she did not want to
" I shall come every day," she announced.
He smiled gratefully, and she stayed and cliatted
with him until the sister proclaimed that visitors were
From that day the convalescence of Jim Canning,
although slow, was assured. Apart from the broken
jaw he had suffered a slight concussion owing to strik-
ing the back of his head against the wall when he fell.
The hospital authorities could not get out of him how
the accident happened. Annie and Isaac Rubens were
regular visitors, but during the seven weeks he re-
mained in hospital Clara only visited him twice, and
that was to arrange about money. On the day that he
w^as discharged he had drawn his last five pounds from
" I^ever mind, never mind," he thought to himself ;
" we'll soon get that back."
And within a few days he was again trundling his
barrow along the streets, calling out in his rather high
tremolo voice, " Old iron ! Old iron ! "
There followed after that a long period in the life of
the Canning family which is usually designated as
"humdrum." With the departure of Ted Woollams,
Clara settled down into a listless prosecution of her do-
mestic routine. She seldom spoke to her husband ex-
cept to nag him, or to grumble about their reduced cir-
cumstances, and these for a time were in a very serious
96 "OLD IRON"
state. Debts had accumulated, and various odds and
ends in the house had disappeared while he had been in
hospital. Clara was still smartly dressed, but Annie's
clothes, particularly her boots, were in a deplorable
condition. But Jim set to work, leaving home in the
morning at seven o'clock and often not returning till
eight or nine at night. For months the financial posi-
tion remained precarious. A period of hunger, and
ill-temper, and sudden ugly brawls. But gradually he
began again to get it under control. Clara had not lost
her taste for good living, but she was kept in check
by the lack of means. She was furtive, sullen, and
resentful. Jim insisted that whatever they had to
go without, Annie was to continue with her school-
They never spoke of Ted Woollams, but Jim knew
that he had only gone away for four or five months.
Jim struggled on through the winter months, out in all
weathers in his thin and battered coat. Sometimes
twinges of rheumatism distorted his face, but he men-
tioned it to no one, not even Isaac.
It was in April that a sudden and dramatic change
came into Jim's life. One morning he was alone in
the shop. It was raining, and no customers had been in
for several hours. Jim was struggling with the un-
solvable problem of getting things straight and sorted
out. Beneath a bed he came across a jumble of inde-
scribable things, bits of iron and broken pots, odd boots,
sections of brackets, nameless odd-shaped remnants cov-
ered with dust and grime. He sighed. He remem-
" OLD IROX " 97
bered this lot quite well. They had been a great dis-
appointment to him. He had trundled his barrow all
the way down to a sale in Greenwich, where he had
been given the tip that there were some good things
going. Owing to losing his way, he had ai-rived late,
and all the plums had been devoured by rival dealers.
lie had picked up this lot at the end of the sale for a
few shillings, not that they appealed to him as a good
bargain, but because he did not want to feel that he had
completely wasted his day. He had brought them
back and dumped them under the bed, intending to go
through them later on. That was many months ago,
long before he had been to the hospital, and there they
had remained ever since.
Jim's ideas of dusting were always a little perfunc-
tory. With a small feather brush he flicked clouds of
dust from one object to another, Xo; there was noth-
ing here of any value, though that piece of torn em-
broidery might fetch five shillings, and the small ob-
long iron box which some one had painted inside and out
a dark green might be worth a little more. He picked
it up and examined it. A ridiculous notion to paint
iron; but there! people were fools, particularly cus-
tomers. Of course it might be copper or brass. In
that case it would be worth more. He pulled out a long
jack-knife and scraped the surface. The paint was old
but incredibly thick. It must have had a dozen coats
or so. When he eventually got down to the surface he
found a dark-blue color.
" Um! " thought Jim. " That's a funny thing."
98 " OLD IRON "
And he scraped a little more, and found some brown
" That's enamel/^ he said out loud. " An enamel
box. Um! I'll show that to Isaac. An enamel box
might be worth several pounds."
He put the box on one side, and continued tidying
up. That evening, after supper, he wrapped the box
up in a piece of newspaper and took it round to his
Isaac adjusted his thickest glasses and examined the
spot where Jim had scratched. Then he went to the
door and called out :
" Lizzie, bring me some turpentine."
When the turpentine was brought, Isaac began to
work away at the surface with a rag and penknife.
His face was very red, but he made no remark except
once to mutter:
" This paint alone is twenty or thirty years old."
It took him nearly half-an-hour to reveal a complete
corner of the box. Then he sat back and examined it
through a microscope. Jim waited patiently. At last
Isaac put it down and tapped the table.
" This," he said deliberately, " is a Limoges enamel
box of the finest period. An amazing find! Where
did you obtain it ? "
" I bought it at a sale of the effects of an old lady
named Brandt, at Greenwich. She died intestate, and
had no relatives."
" You are in luck's way, Jim Caiming."
" But why was it painted dark-green ? "
" OLD lEON " 1)9
There are many mysteries in our profession. It
was probably stolen many years ago — possibly a cen-
tury ago. The thief knew that the piece was too well-
known to attempt to dispose of for some time. So for
security he painted it in order to hide it. Then some-
thing happened. He may have died or been sent to
prison. The box passed into other hands. Nobody
worried about it. It was just an old iron box. It has
probably been lying in a lumber-room for years."
" It's been lying in my shop for five months. Is it
worth a great deal, Isaac ? "
Isaac thoughtfully stroked his chin.
" I am of opinion that if it is undamaged, and if the
rest of it is up to the standard of this part we have
disclosed, it is worth many thousand pounds."
Jim looked aghast.
" But I only gave six-and-sixpence for the lot ! "
" It is the fortune of our profession."
The upshot of it was that Jim left the box in Isaac's
hands to deal with as he thought fit. At first Isaac
wished to waive the question of commission, but when
Jim pointed out that but for Isaac's superior knowledge
he would probably have sold it for a five-pound note,
the Jew agreed to sell it on a ten per cent, basis. Fair
bargaining on both sides.
Jim returned home, almost dazed by the news. Was
it fair to obtain such a large sum of money in such a
way ? He had done nothing to deserve it. And yet —
who should have it, if not he? The old lady had not
even any relations. She was an eccentric who lived
100 " OLD IKOIsT "
alone with a crowd of cats. An enamel box has no at-
traction to a cat.
He said nothing about his find to his wife or to
Annie. He did not wish to buoy them up with false
hopes. Perhaps, after all, Isaac might be mistaken, or
he may have over-valued the object. A thousand
pounds ! A dazzling sum. Why, he could almost re-
tire upon it to — Shorwell Green, where it was so quiet
and peaceful. But no ! Clara would not agree to
that — the Camden Road ! He detested the Camden
Road, but still, there it was. Clara was his wife. It
was only fair to consider her wishes, although they were
so unhappy together. In any case, it would be a great
relief; security for years to come.
He went back to his work as though nothing had hap-
pened. Weeks went by, and Jim heard nothing about
the enamel box; and then, one morning, he received a
note from Isaac asking him to call round at once.
When he entered his friend's shop he knew that
something exceptional had happened. Isaac was ex-
cited. He glowed and smiled, and was almost jocular.
" Come into my little room," he said.
When they were seated, he elaborately produced a
cheque from his vest pocket, and handed it across the
table to Jim.
" Here is your little share. I have kept my com-
It was a cheque for £4,140. Isaac had sold it for
£4,600 to a well-known collector.
The rest of that day was like a dro^TO to Jim.
" OLD IRON " 101
Truly, he returned and pretended to be busy. In the
afternoon, he even went out and trundled his barrow,
calling out, " Old iron ! Old iron ! " but he did it
more by force of habit.
" I need not do this any more," he kept on thinking.
His mind was occupied with many visions. It was a
bri.'vht spring day, with light fleecy clouds scudding
above the chimney-pots. How beautiful it would be
in that Sussex vale! The flowers would be out, and
the young pollard- willows reflected in the cool streams.
Pleasant to lie on the bank and fish, and forget this
grimy life. And Annie, racing hither and thither,
picking the buttercups and marguerites, and nestling
by his side. He could do all this ! Freedom, by one
of those queer twists of fate.
The day wore on, and he still continued his work in a
dazed, preoccupied manner. When the evening came,
a feeling of exhaustion crept over him. Yes, probably
he was tired. He wanted a rest and change. How
fortunate he was. And yet he dreaded breaking the
news to Clara. She would immediately demand a com-
plete social unheaval. A new house, new furniture,
luxuries, and parties, and social excitements. He ar-
rived home late. During supper he was very silent.
" I will tell her afterwards," he thought. Annie
was in bed. She should be told to-morrow. But to-
night it must be broken to Clara. After all, it was
true, she ivas his wife. It was the fair thing to do.
He tried to recall the moments of passion and tender-
ness of the early days of their honeymoon, but all the
102 "OLD lEON""
other ugly visions kept dancing before his eyes. He
lighted his pipe and gazed around the untidy room.
Perhaps she would improve. Perhaps the changed
conditions would soften her, and make her more amen-
able. But still, she was his wife, and if she wished to
live in the Camden Road, well . . .
It was nearly dark, and Clara went out of the room,
humming. She seemed peculiarly cheerful to-night.
Almost as if she knew. . . . He fingered the cheque in
his breast-pocket. She had gone upstairs — probably
to fetch a novel. She adored a certain kind of novel.
"When she came down, he would lay the cheque on the
table, and say:
" Look, Clara ; see what has happened to us ! "
And then he would be a little tender with her, try
and make her understand how he felt. They would
start all over again.
And then happened a variant of that hypothetical
case described at the beginning of this story. Only, in
this case it was the woman who went out.
Jim was sitting there with his fingers on the cheque
that was to be their means of reconciliation, and with
the tears already banked in his unuttered speech, when
Clara put her head in the door. She had her hat on.
" I'm going to the post."
Jim removed his hand from his breast-pocket. He
sat back, and heard the door slam.
" I'll tell her when she comes in."
" OLD IRON " 103
But Clara never came in. He waited half-an-hour,
and then he thought:
" She's gone to some dissipation with a friend. Oh,
well, I must wait up till she returns, I suppose. I'm
sorry she has disappointed me on — a night like this,
He sat dreaming in the chair, till he became sud-
denly painfully aware of cold. It was quite dark.
He lighted the gas. It was one o'clock. He felt his
heart beating with a physical dread. Something had
happened to Clara. Perhaps she had been run over, at
the very moment when everything was going to change
for the better for her. He blundered his way out into
the hall, where a gas-jet flickered feebly, and groped
for his overcoat. On it he found a note pinned. He
turned up the gas higher, and read:
" I'm going off to Ted Woollams, I'm sick of you, and the
stinking little house. Ted's made a bit in America, and I
give you the address. You can do what you like about it, but
it's no good you ever trying to get me back.
It was characteristic of Jim Canning that this note
made him cry. He was so sensitive to its utter cal-
lousness and ingratitude. Then he dabbed his eyes
with his old rod handkerchief, and went upstairs. He
tapped on Annie's door, tlien he opened it and said
" Annie, it's all right, my dear. It's only me. May
I come in ? "
104 " OLD lEO^T '>
The sleeping child was awake abruptly. She held
out her arms.
" I ought not to have woken you up, my love, only I
felt a little — lonely. Annie, would you like to come
away with me to a beautiful place in the country,
where it's all woods and flowers, and little streams ? "
" Oh, Daddy, yes ! And would there be lambs, too,
and little black pigs, and brown calves ? "
" Yes, my dear ; all those things ; and birds, too, and
quietness, and freedom."
" But, Daddy, could we ? "
" Yes, dear ; I've had some good fortune."
Annie was very wide awake now, and she sat up and
clapped her hands.
" Oh, Daddy, when can we go ? "
" Quite soon, my dear. Perhaps in a few weeks."
When he had closed the door, he dabbed his eyes
again, and thought :
'' It was unthinking of me. I oughtn't to have
woken her up, but — she is all I have."
A week later he wrote to Clara:
" Dear Clara,
" I understand that for the last week you have been living
with Ted Woollams. I do not erittieize your action. We are
all as God made us. I shall in the dew course take diverse
proceedings not as an act of hostility to you but that you may
marry the man of your choice and be respectable. I also shall
share witli you the result of a good deal last week in older
that you may not want and so close with check for £2020. I
think this fair. " Jm."
It was Isaac who helped him over all the difficult
" OLD IKON " 105
problems wliidi occiiirod at that time, and it was Isaac
who persuaded liim that he was overdoing the " fair-
ness " to Clara. He said that under the circumstances
he had no moral obligation to Clara, and that £500
would be lavish. So in the end Jim altered the cheque
to that amount. It was Isaac who took over the lit-
tle shop, which he used as a kind of dumping-ground
of his superfluous stock. And it was Isaac who, a year
after, returned letters addressed to Jim in a handwrit-
ing he recognized, " Gone away. Address not known."
And it was he who in later years bore the brunt of the
wild invective of a drunken harridan who said that her
husband had deserted her, and would not hand her any
of the fortune he must have inherited. He shook his
head sadly, and replied that he knew nothing. Mr.
Canning and his daughter had left London. He
thought they had gone to Australia.
^Vlien she had gone, he said to himself:
" It would distress Jim to know that a woman who
had once been his wife had sunk to such a condition."
As he passed through to the room at the back he
smiled and thought :
" How fortunate she did not come in here ! "
On the table was a large bowl of red and white roses,
with the label and card still lying on the table. On
the card was inscribed, " With love to Uncle Isaac.
The postmark on the label was a village in Sussex.
LITTLE WHITE FROCK
LITTLE WHITE FROCK
WHEN their careers are finished, the painter,
the author, the architect, the sculptor, may
point to this or that, and say, " Lo, this is
my handiwork. Future generations shall rejoice in
But to the actor and the executive musician there is
nothing left but — memories.
Their permanence lies in the memories of the people
who loved them. They cannot pass it on. Some one
may say to you, " Ah, my boy, you should have heard
Jean de Reszke," or, " You should have seen Macready
play that part." And you are bound in all politeness to
accept this verdict, but if you have not heard Jean de
Reszke, nor seen Macready, it leaves no definite im-
pression on you at all. Indeed, the actor is in worse
case than the musician. For at the present time there
are ingenious mechanical devices for caging the per-
formance of a musician with varying degrees of suc-
cess, but no mechanism could ever imprison the electric
thrill of Joseph Jefferson or Henry Irving on their
great nights of triumph. They are gone forever, cast
away among the limbo of the myths.
These melancholy reflections occurred to me on the
first occasion when I visited Colin Brancker. I met
the old chap first of all in the public library. He had
110 LITTLE WHITE FROCK
a fine, distinguished head, with long, snow-white hair.
He was slim, and in spite of a pronounced stoop, he car-
ried himself with a certain distinction and alertness.
I was a fairly regular visitor to the library, and I al-
ways found him devouring the magazines and news-
papers which I particularly wanted to read myself.
A misunderstanding about a copy of the Saturday
Review led to a few formal expressions of courtesy,
on the following day to a casual nod, later on to a few
words about the weather; then to a profound bow on
his part and an inquiry after his health from me.
Once we happened to be going out at the same time,
and I walked to the end of the road with him.
He interested me at once. His clear, precise diction,
with its warm timbre of restrained emotion, was very
arresting. His sympathy about the merest trifles
stirred you to the depths. If he said, " What a glorious
day it is to-day ! " it was not merely a conventional
expression, but a kind of paean of all the joy and
ecstasy of spring life, sunshine and young lambs frisk-
ing in the green meadows.
If he said, " Oh ! I'm so sorry," in reply to your an-
nouncement that you had lost your 'bus ticket coming
along and had had to pay twice, the whole dread inci-
dent appeared to you envisaged through a mist of tears.
The grief of Agamemnon weeping over the infidelity of
Clytemnestra seemed but a trite affair in comparison.
One day, with infinite tact, he invited me to his
" humble abode." He occupied the upper part of a
small house in Talbot Road. He lived alone, but was
LITTLE WHITE FROCK 111
apparently tended by a gannt, middle-aged woman who
glided about the place in felt slippers.
The rooms were, as he expressed it, " humble," but
not by any means poverty-stricken. lie had several
pieces of old furniture and bric-a-brac, innumerable me-
mentoes and photographs. It was then that I realized
the peculiar position of the actor. If he had been a
painter I could have looked at some of his work and
have " placed " him ; but what could you do with an
old actor who lived so much in the past? The posi-
tion seemed to me pitiable.
Doubtless in his day he had been a fine and dis-
tinguished actor, and here was I, who knew nothing
about him, and did not like to ask what parts he had
played because I felt that I ought to know. Neither
was he very informing. Not that he was diffident in
speech — he talked well and volubly — but I had to
gather what he had done by his various implications.
There was a signed photograph of himself in the char-
acter of Malvolio, and in many other Shakespearean
parts. There were also signed photographs of J. L.
Toole and Henry Irving, and innumerable actors, some
of whom were famous and others whose names were un-
familiar to me. By slow degrees I patched together
some of the romantic tissues of his life. Whatever po-
sition he may have held in the theatrical world, he
certainly still had the faculty of moving one person
profoundly — myself. Everything in that little room
seemed to vibrate with romance. One of Irving's pho-
tographs was inscribed " To my dear old friend, Colin
112 LITTLE WHITE FEOCK
Brancker." On the circular table was an enamel snuff-
box given him by Nellie Farren.
When he spoke of his mother his voice sounded like
some distant organ with the vox Imrtianci stop pulled
out. I gathered that his mother had been a famous
French actress. On the piano was a fan given her by
the Empress Eugenie. He never spoke of his father.
E'early everything had some intimate association.
I formed a habit of calling on old Brancker on
Thursday evenings, when my wife usually visited an
invalid aunt. The experience was always a complete
entertainment. He knew nothing of my world and I
knew nothing of his. I came completely under the
spell of his imagery. I had only to touch some trin-
ket on the mantelpiece to set the whole machinery of
retrospection on the move. He came haltingly to his
subject as though he were feeling for it through the
lavender-scented contents of some old drawer. But
when the subject was discovered, he brought the whole
picture vividly before my mind. I could see those
people strutting before the footlights, hear them laugh
and joke in their stuffy lodgings and their green-rooms,
follow their hard life upon the road, their stiiiggles,
and adversities, and successes, and above all the mov-
ing throb of their passions and romances.
And then the picture would die out. It had no be-
ginning and no end. It was just an impression. The
angle of vision would alter. Something else would ap-
pear upon the scene.
After a time, touched with pity for this lonely and
LITTLE WHITE FROCK 113
derelict old actor, my wife and I occasionally sent him
little presents of game and j)ort wine, when such tilings
came our way. I would like to explain, at this point,
that my wife is younger than I. Her outlook is less
critical and introspective. To use her own expression,
she is out to have a good time. She enjoys dances and
theaters and gay parties. And, after all, why shouldn't
she? She is young and beautiful and full of life.
Her hair — but I digress ! In spite of the pheasants
and the port, she had never met old Brancker. But
one day we all happened to meet at the corner of the
Talbot Bead. I then enjoyed an entirely novel vision
of my hero. He was magnificent. The bow he made,
the long sweep of the hat, would have put d'Artagnan
to shame. When I introduced them, he held her hand
for a moment, and said:
" It is indeed a great pleasure."
It doesn't sound very much in print, but Alice com-
pletely went under. She blushed with pleasure, and
told me afterwards that she thought he was " a perfect
old dear." The affair lapsed for several weeks. I still
continued to call upon him, and we nearly exhausted
the whole gamut of his belongings. We even routed
through old drawers where faded remnants of ancient
fustian would recall some moving episode of the past.
I became greedy for these visionary adventures.
One night, rather late, I found the little white frock.
So familiar had I become with my old friend that I
was allowed to poke about his room on my own, and
ask him questions. It was a child's frock, and it lay
114 LITTLE WHITE FEOCK
neatly folded on the top of a chest in the passage. I
brought it into the room, where he was sipping his rum-
and-water, and said :
" What's this, Mr. Brancker ? "
He fixed his eyes upon the frock, and instantly I
was aware that he was strangely moved. At first an
expression of surprise and bewilderment crept over his
face; then I observed a look of utter dejection and re-
morse. He did not speak, and rather confusedly I
went up to him and touched him on the shoulder.
" I'm sorry," I said. " Doubtless there is some
story. ... I ought not to have . . ."
Instantly he patted my arm in return, and muttered :
" 1^0, no. It's all right, old boy. I will tell you.
Only, not to-night. IS'o, not to-night."
He stood up and took one or two turns up and down
the room in silence. I did not dare to intrude into
the secret chamber of his memories. Suddenly he
turned to me, and putting his arm round my shoulder,
" Old boy, come in to-morrow. Come to dinner.
Bring the wife. Yes, you must both come. Come to
dinner at seven-thirty. And then — I will tell you the
story of that little white frock."
It happened that a dance my wife had intended going
to the following night had fallen through. To my sur-
prise, she jumped at Mr. Brancker's invitation. She
said that she thought it would be extremely interesting.
I felt a little nervous at taking her. An invitation to
dinner for the first time is always a doubtful number.
LITTLE WHITE FROCK 115
The social equation varies so alarmingly and unex-
pectedly. My wife frequently dined at what she
called " smart " houses. How could old Brancker pos-
sibly manage a dinner in his poky rooms? I warned
her to wear her oldest and shabbiest, and to have a sand-
wich before we started. Needless to say, my advice
was ignored. She appeared in a wonderful go\vn of
pearl-gTay. Experience told me it was useless to pro-
test, and I jogged along the street by her side in my
tweed suit. And then I had my second surprise. Old
Brancker was in immaculate evening-dress. Cun-
ningly-modulated lights revealed a table glittering with
silver and glass. I mumbled some apology for my
negligence, but in his most courtly way he expressed
his pleasure that I had treated him with such friendly
lack of ceremony. Nevertheless this question of dress
— as so often happens — exercised a very definite effect
upon my whole evening. I felt a little out of it. My
wife and old Brancker seemed to belong to one world
and I to another. Moreover, their conversation flowed
easily and naturally. The old actor was in his most
brilliant mood, and Alice sparkled and gurgled in re-
sponse. Although she w^as younger and Brancker older
than I, I felt at times that I was the oldest of the three,
and that they were just children playing an absorbing
game. And the dinner was the third surprise.
The gaunt woman ser\'ed it, gliding in and out of the
room with a quiet assurance. It was no lodging-house
dinner, but the artful succession of little dishes which
symbolizes the established creed of superior-living crea-
116 LITTLE WHITE FROCK
tures. Wine, too, flowed from long-necked bottles, and
coffee was served in diminutive cnps. At length, Mrs.
Windsor collected the last vestiges of this remarkable
feast, but left on the table a silver tray on which were
set four liqueur glasses and a decanter of green Char-
" Let us all sit round the fire," said our host. " But,
first, let me press you to have a little of this excellent
beverage. It was given me by a holy brother, a man
who led a varied life, but who, alas ! died in disgrace."
He passed his hand across his brow as though the
memory were too sacred to be discussed. I sighed in-
voluntarily, and my wife said brightly:
" ]^ot for me, Mr, Brancker ; but you help yourself.
And now you're going to tell us the story of the white
He raised his fine head and looked at her. Then
he stretched out his long arm across the table and
gently pressed her hand.
" I beg of you, dear lady," he said gently, " just one
drop in memory of my friend."
The implied sanctity of the appeal could not be de-
nied. Both my wife and I partook of half a glass, and
though I am by nature an abstainer, I must acknowl-
edge that it tasted very good. Old Brancker's hand
trembled as he poured out the Chartreuse. He drank
his at a gulp, and as though the emotion were not yet
stilled, he had another one. Then he rose, and, taking
my wife's arm, he led her to the easy chair by the fire.
I was rather proud of my intimate knowledge of the
LITTLE WHITE FROCK 117
old actor's possessions, and I pointed out the snuff-box
which Nellie Farren had given him, and the photo-
graph of Irving, with its inscription " To my dear old
Brancker sighed and shrugged his shoulders. Per-
haps one does not boast of these associations. Perhaps
it is vulgar, but I knew how interested Alice would be.
When we had done a round of the rooms, whither in his
fatherly way he had conducted my wife by the arm,
and occasionally rested his hand ever so lightly on her
shoulder, we returned to the dining-room, and Alice
" Now show me this little white frock ! "
He bowed, and without a word went out into the
hall, and returned with the frock, which he spread
reverently over the back of a chair.
" How perfectly sweet ! " said my wife.
For a few moments he buried his head in his hands,
and Alice and I were silent. I could not but observe
the interesting mise-en-scene in which I found myself.
The dim recesses of the room, heavy with memories.
My wife cozily curled up in the high arm-chair, the
firelight playing on her fresh, almost childlike, face,
a simple ring sparkling on her finger, and on the pearly
glint of her diaphanous gown. On the other side of
the table where the little glasses stood, the clear-cut
features and long snow-white hair of the old actor,
silhouetted against a dark cabinet. And then, like some
fragile ghost recalled to bear witness to its tragic past,
the dim outline of the child's white frock.
118 LITTLE WHITE FROCK
" It was before your time, mes enfants, long, long
before your time," lie said suddenly. " You would not
remember the famous Charles Cai-side Company who
staiTed the provinces. We became known as the Ca-
pacity Company. The title was doubly-earned. We
always played to full houses, and in those days — "
He turned to me with a penetrating, almost challeng-
ing look, and added:
" There were actors. Comedy, and tragedy, history,
everything worth doing, in the legitimate, was in our
repertoire. We changed our bill every night, and some-
times twice a day. Ay, and we changed our parts,
sir. I remember Terry O'Bane and I reversing the
parts of Othello and lago on alternate nights for two
weeks at a stretch. I played Lord Stamford to his
Puttick in ' The Golden Dawn.' He played Shylock
to my Bassanio. I will not bore you with these details.
Ah ! poor old Terry ! Poor dear old Terry ! "
He stopped and looked down at his hands, and neither
of us spoke.
" When I say that Terry O'Bane and I were friends,
I want to tell you that we were friends as only artists
can be friends. We loved each other. For three years
we worked together side by side — never a suspicion
of envy, never a suspicion of jealousy. I remember
one night, after Terry's delivery of Jaques' speech on
the fool, he did not get a hand. I found him weeping
in the wings. ' Old fellow ! ' I said, but he gripped me
by the arai. ' Colly boy,' he answered, ' I was think-
ing of you. I knew how distressed you would be ! '
LITTLE WHITE FROCK 119
Think of that ! His only concern was that / should be
distressed. Ah ! in those days . . ."
He stretched his long white fingers and examined
them ; then, turning suddenly to my wife, he said :
" I want to ask you, mademoiselle " (he persisted
in calling her 'mademoiselle' all the evening), "to
make allowances in what I am about to tell you for the
tempora et mores. In my young days love had a
different significance to what it has now. In this
modern world I obsei've nothing but expediency and
opportunism. Xo one is prepared to sacrifice, to run
risks. The love between O'Bane and me was an epic
of self-sacrifice, and it ran its full course. It found its
acid test on the day when Sophie Wiles joined our com-
pany at Leeds."
He stood up, and his voice trembled in a low whisper.
Looking at Alice, he said :
" She was as beautiful, as fragile, as adorable as you
are, mademoiselle. Strange how these great secrets are
conveyed imperceptibly. O'Bane and I looked at each
other, and instinctively we understood. We said noth-
ing. We made no comment about her. We were en-
tirely solicitous of each other's feelings. We referred
to her as ' Miss Wiles ' and we addressed her as ' Miss
Wiles.' Before we had been three weeks on the road I
knew that if I had not kno^vii O'Bane's feelings I should
have gone to her and said, ' Sophie, my darling, my
angel, I love you, I adore you. Will you marry me ? '
But would it have been chivalrous to do this, knowing
O'Bane's sentiments ? We were two months on the road
120 LITTLE WHITE EKOCK
before the matter reached its climax. And during that
time — under an unspoken compact — neither of us
made love to Sophie. And then, one night, I could bear
it no longer. I saw the drawn and hungry look in my
colleague's eye as he watched her from the wings. I
went up to him and whispered, ' Old fellow, go in and
win. She's worthy of you.' He understood me at
once, and he pressed my hand. ' Colly,' he said, ' you're
right. This can't go on. Meet me after the show and
come round to my rooms.' "
The old actor's lips were trembling. He drew his
chair nearer to my wife's. " I cannot tell you of the
heart-burning interview I had with my old friend that
night. Each tried to give way to the other. It was
very terrible, very moving. At length we decided that
the only solution would be to put the matter to a hazard.
We could not cut cards or throw dice. It seemed pro-
fane. We decided to play a game of chess. We set
out the pieces and began. But at the end of a few
moments it was apparent that each was trying to let the
other win. ^ Stay,' I said ; ' we must leave the verdict
to impartial destiny, after all,' and I rose. On the
sideboard — as it might be here — was a large bowl of
Gloire-de-Dijon roses. I took the largest bloom and
said, ' Terry, old boy, if there are an odd number of
petals in this rose, she is yours. If an even number, I
will pay her court.' He agreed. Slowly and deliber-
ately, petal by petal, I destroyed the beautiful bloom.
There were fifty-eight petals. When Terry saw the last
petal fall he turned white and swayed. I helped him
LITTLE WHITE FROCK 121
to the easj-chair and handed liim a little grog. It was
nearly dauTi. Already the birds were twittering on the
He turned and gazed at the window as though even
now the magic of that early moraing was upon him.
" The dauTi was clear for me, but for my friend how
dark and foreboding! Or so it seemed to both of us
at that hour. But, as Mahomet said, ' With women,
life is a condition of flux.' At eleven o'clock that
morning I was on my bended knees to Sophie. I poured
out all my pent-up feelings of the two months. There
are some things too sacred to repeat even to those who
are — dear to us."
He gasped and, stretching out his arm, poured out
another glass of the Chartreuse.
" She refused me, or if she did not actually refuse
me — indeed, she did not ; she was sympathetic, almost
loving, but so — indeterminate that I was almost driven
to a frenzy of despair. When one is young, one is like
that. One must have all, and at once, or go crazy with
despair. For a week I courted her day and night,
and I could not make her decide. She liked me, but
she did not love me. At the end of that time, I went to
O'Bane, and I said, ' Old man, it is your call. My
pai*t is played.' Under great pressure from me he
consented to enter the lists, and I withheld my hand
as he had done. Even now the memory of that week of
anguish when I knew that my greatest friend was
making love to my adored is almost unbearable. At
the end of the week he came to me and said, ' Old boy,
122 LITTLE WHITE FKOCK
I don't know how I stand. She likes me, but I hardly
think she loves me.' I will not burden you with the
chronicle of our strange actions which followed. We
decided that as the question was identical it should
be an open fight in a fair field, otherwise, between us,
we should lose her altogether. We would both pay
court to her wherever and whenever the opportunity
occurred. And we would do so without animosity or
ill-will. The tour lasted three months, and I knew
that O'Bane was winning. There was no question about
it. He was the favorite. Every minute I was ex-
pecting to hear the dread glad tidings. And then a
strange thing happened."
He leant back in his chair and passed his hands
through his hair with a graceful gesture.
" An uncle in Australia died and left O'Bane an
enormous fortune. He was rich beyond the dreams of
avarice. The company all knew of it, and were de-
lighted, all — all except one person."
He glanced towards my wife, and sighed.
" I have lived a good many years, and yet I seem
to find the heart of woman as unfathomable, as unex-
plorable as ever. They are to me the magic casements
opening on the night. There is no limit . . . every
subtle human experience is capable of endless variation.
Sophie refused to marry O'Bane because people would
think she married him for his money. The anguish
of those last weeks I shall never forget. She definitely
refused him, and I was torn between my love for O'Bane
and my love for Sophie. I can say with perfect truth —
LITTLE WHITE FROCK 123
literal truth — that the fortune killed O'Baue. When
Ave aiTived in London, he began to squander. He
drank, gambled, and led a depraved life, all because
the woman he loved would not marry him. In the
spring he left the company and took a house in town.
It became the happy hunting-ground of loose characters.
It is needless to say that if Sophie wouldn't man-y him,
there were plenty of other women willing to marry a
young millionaire. He became entangled with a fast
and pretty creature called Annabel Peacock. He mar-
ried her, and in the following year they had a child."
The fire crackled on the hearth; my wife did not
take her eyes from the old actor's face. A black cat
strolled leisurely across the room and stretched itself
before the fire. He continued:
" It was then that I experienced an entirely novel
vision of woman's character. Sophie, who would not
marry O'Bane because he was rich, and who shivered
with disgust in the presence of Annabel Peacock, de-
veloped an amazing affection and interest for their child.
We were out again in the Capacity Company. I had
her all to myself. I laid siege to her heart. I was
patient, tactful, importunate, imploring, passionate.
But it was all no good, my boy ... no good at all.
Heigho ! would you believe it ? — for ten years of my
life from that date I was that woman's slave, and she
was the slave of Teri-y's child. Company after com-
pany I joined in order to be with her. I gave up good
parts. I sacrificed leads, and in fact I even accepted
a walk-on — anything to be with Sophie. Sophie, who
124 LITTLE WHITE FROCK
would not listen to me, who treated me like a little pet,
to run hither and thither, and who spent all her money
and time on toys and clothes for Terry's child. Would
you believe it ? "
To my surprise, my wife spoke for the first time.
She said: "Yes."
Brancker looked at her keenly, and nodded.
" Yes. In any affair between a man and a woman,
a man finds himself at a disadvantage. Mademoiselle,
you see, understands. Women have all kinds of mys-
terious intuitions and senses which we wot not of.
She is armed at every point. She has more resources.
She is better-equipped than man. Sophie even made a
friend of Annabel. She wrote her loving letters and
called her ' my dearest.' For you must know that two
years after his marriage my old friend Terry O'Bane
went under. He awakened one night feeling ill; he
groped in a chest where he usually kept a flask of
brandy. He took a gulp. The liquid he drew into
his throat was pure liquid ammonia which Annabel had
been using for photographic work. She was a keen
amateur photographer. He rushed out into the street
in his pajamas, and died in the arms of a policeman
at the comer."
The hon-or of this episode was written plainly in
the old man's face. He delivered it with a kind of
dramatic despair, as though he knew it had to be told
and he could not control himself. Then he seemed
to fall to pieces, and lay huddled at the back of his
chair. I looked at Alice furtivelv, and 1 could see
LITTLE WHITE FROCK 125
a tear swimminc^ on the brink of her eye. It was some
moments before he could continue.
" These were all the best years of my life, mcs en-
fants, when my powers were at their highest. My old
friend Toole offered me a good part in London. He
said to me, ' Brancker, old man, you're wasting your-
self in the provinces. Come to town and take a lead.'
I could only press his hand and thank him. In another
week or two I was on the road again with Sophie. As
the years went by she became more and more absorbed
by Terry's unattractive child, and more and more dis-
tressed concerning it. For you must know that in
spite of his profligate life, Terry still had left a con-
siderable fortune, and Annabel continued to live in the
same way. And it was the worst possible atmosphere
to bring a child up in. Annabel was kind to the child
in a spasmodic way, passionate and unreliable. She
would pet it and coax it, and buy it expensive toys and
dresses, and then suddenly neglect or scold it. Sophie
knew this, and all the time she could spare she went
to London and tried to help the situation. She
humored and flattered Annabel, who was quite manage-
able if you treated her like this, and she did what she
could to influence the early training of the child for
good. But, as you may imagine, the little minx grew
up the spit and image of her mother. She was vain,
fickle, and spoilt. By the time she was ten she thought
of nothing but her looks and her frocks; and she was
indeed a very pretty child. She had all the prettiness
of her mother, with something of her father's grace and
126 LITTLE WHITE FROCK
charm. She was encouraged to amuse the vulgar people
who came to the house, and she was allowed to listen
to all the loose talk, and to sit up to any hour she liked,
unless Annabel happened to be in a contrary mood,
when she woidd slap the child and lock her in her
" ' Aunt Sophie,' as she called her, was a favorite with
Lucy, but only, I'm afraid, because ' Aunt Sophie '
gave her expensive toys, and lavished her love per-
sistently upon the child. She wrote to her nearly every
day, wherever she happened to be, and sent her little
The old man mopped his forehead. He was evi-
dently laboring under the severe strain which the in-
voking of these memories put upon him. He walked
to the sideboard and poured himself out a glass of water,
into which he poured — an as after-thought — a tiny
drop of rum. After taking two long, meditative gulps,
he resumed his seat. He seemed to have forgotten
all about our presence. He was living in the past. But
suddenly he turned to my wife and said:
" I have many of the beautiful frocks which Sophie
made for little Lucy. They have come down to me.
If it would not bore you to call one afternoon, made-
moiselle, I could show you some that might interest
you." There was a strange, eager appeal in his voice.
It seemed a matter of tremendous moment that Alice
should go and inspect the frocks. My heart bled for
him. " Of course she will go," I thought, but to my
surprise, she said nothing. She just looked at him with
LITTLE WHITE FROCK 127
that queer, watchful expression that women alone arc
capable of. Perhaps it is part of what the old chap
referred to — their equipment. She toyed with the
chain on her frock, and his eye meditated her move-
ments. He hesitated, and then rather nervously pro-
ceeded, as though talking to himself.
" Frocks ! What a part they play in our lives.
Carlyle was right. Sophie was extraordinarily clever
with her needle. She had a genius for combining mate-
rials. Her theatrical experience helped her. She
made the most alluring frocks. The child adored
' Aunt Sophie's ' frocks. They always looked so strik-
ing and so professional. The crisis in my life, and
which I am about to tell you of, was indeed occasioned
by one of the frocks which Sophie made for Lucy. It
came about in this way."
He paused again, and tapped the top of the table
with his beautiful white hands.
" That last year — that year when Lucy reached her
tenth birthday — the excesses in Annabel's house
reached their zenith. The place became notorious.
Annabel had taken to herself a drunken lord. Lord
Starborough. He was a dissipated young roue. He
rather took a fancy to Lucy, and he spoilt her in the
same way that Annabel did. We heard stories of the
goings on. The child was taken to houses to dance. I
believe she was even taught to put on rouge. There
was a rich family called the Ark\vrights, who also had
children, and who lived a similar life. These children
were Lucy's great friends. They vied with each other
128 LITTLE WHITE FEOCK
in their infantile snobbery. The parents gave elaborate
parties and tried to outshine each other in the lavish-
ness of their entertainment, and the overdressing of the
children. It was very, very painful. Even I, whose
life was being wrecked by Sophie's adulation of this
child, felt sorry. My heart bled for my old friend's
" We had a long tour that autumn, Sophie and I.
We were out in ' The Woman Who Failed.' Sophie
had a lead, but I was only playing the part of a butler.
It was a long and trying tour up I^orth. The weather
was very bitter. There was a good deal of sickness, and
our chief was a hard man. Early in December Sophie
caught a cold which rapidly developed into bronchitis.
She had a narrow escape. She was, however, only out
of the bill for ten days. She insisted on returning and
struggling on. The tour was to end on Christmas Eve.
One day she had a letter from Lucy. I remember the
exact words to this day. ' Dear Aunt Sophie, do make
me a lovely frock for Christmas Eve. The Arkwrights
are having a lovely ball, and I know Irene is having a
gold and green, with a sparkling veil. Your loving
" When Sophie got this letter she smiled. She was
happy. She was always happy when doing a service.
Ah ! me. . . . For nearly a week she thought and
dreamt about the frock she was going to make for Lucy
for the Arkwrights' party. She knew what the child
wanted — a frock to outshine all the others. Then
another story reached us. I have forgotten what it was :
LITTLE WHITE FROCK 129
some distressing record of these Arkwrigbt people.
One night after the show she sent for me. I could tell
she was very agitated. She clutched my arm, and said,
* Old man, I know what I'm going to do. I'm going to
make Lucy a frock which will outshine all the others.
And it will be just a plain white frock, with no adorn-
ment of any sort. Just think of it, — amongst all those
vulgar, overdressed children, one little girl, as pretty as
Lucy, — in plain white. And they will be bound to
appreciate it. It will tell. And perhaps she will real-
ize — what it means. Good taste and refinement will
always tell against vulgarity.' I applauded Sophie's
idea, and I went with her to get the material. But
she fainted in the shop. During those last few days
I began to realize that Sophie was very ill. She was
simply living on her nervous force, keeping herself
going in order to complete the tour, and to deliver
Lucy's frock in time for the ball.
" Our last journey back was from Nottingham. We
arrived in London at five o'clock on Christmas Eve. I
was in a fever of dread. I believed that Sophie was
dying. She kept swaying in the train as though she
was going to drop. Her face was deadly-white, her
eyes unnaturally bright, and her fingers were still busy
on the frock. So absorbed had I been in Sophie's
affairs, I had made no arrangements about lodgings in
town. Neither had she. But my old friend, Joe Cad-
gers, seeing my distress, said, ' Old boy, leave it to me.
I know a snug little place where they'll take you in.
I'm not stopping. I'm going straight through to Hast-
130 LITTLE WHITE EROCK
ings.' I thanked my old friend ajid embraced him.
When we got to Euston, we got Sophie into a four-
wheeled cab, and Joe Gadgers came with us to arrange
the introduction. I hardly noticed where the lodgings
were — somewhere in Clapham, I think. We arrived
there, and a good lady took us in without hesitation.
We put Sophie to bed. She was almost delirious, but
still the frock was not quite finished. Joe left us, and
I sat by her bedside, watching her busy fingers. I
knew it was useless to protest. The clock on the man-
telpiece ticked, and outside the snow was beginning to
Colin Brancker stood up, and suddenly picked up
the little white frock from the back of the chair. He
held it in his arms reverently and tenderly. His voice
was strong and resonant. He stood there, and acted the
scene vividly before our eyes.
" At ten minutes to seven I left the house, holding
the frock in my arms. I rushed out without a hat, with-
out a coat. I fiew along the street, calling out for a
cab like a madman. ... At last I got one. I told the
driver to drive like the furies to the address I gave
him in Kensington. In the cab I stamped my feet
and rocked the dress in my arms as though it were a
fevered child. I don't know how we got there. It
seemed an eternity. I fiung into the house, calling out,
' Lucy ! Lucy ! ' I found her in the drawing-room.
She was dressed in a flaming orange and silver dress,
with a sparkling tiara in her hair. She was looking in
a mirror and putting finishing touches to her hair.
LITTLE WHITE FROCK 131
She cried out Avheu she saw me : ' ITiillo ! I thought
Aunt Sophie had forgotten me. I've hired a frock from
Roco's.' ' Child,' I said, ' your Aunt Sophie has been
working out her life's blood for you. Here is the
frock.' She grabbed it and examined it. ' Frock ! '
she said. ' It looks more like a nightdress. I don't
want the beastly old thing ' ; and she threw it across
the room. I believe at that moment I could have
struck the child. I was blind with fury. Fortunately,
I remembered in time that she was my old friend Terry
O'Bane's daughter. I picked up the frock. ' Ungrate-
ful child ! ' I exclaimed. ' You don't know what you're
doing. You're murdering an ideal. You're killing
your aunt.' She tossed her insolent head and actually
pressed the bell for the butler to see me out. Just like
a grown-up person. Dazed and baffled, I clutched the
little white frock and staggered out into the street.
The night was dark, and the snow was still falling.
Christmas bells were beginning to peal. ... I plunged
on and on, my heart beating against my ribs. People
stared at me, but I was too distressed to care. How
could I go back to Sophie with the insulting message?
Suddenly, at the corner of Hyde Park, a most appalling
realization flashed through my mind. I had made no
note of the address of the lodgings where Sophie and I
tvere staying ! . . . God in heaven ! What was I to
do ? The only man who could help me, my old friend,
Joe Gadgers, had gone to Hastings. What could I do ?
Could I go to the police and say, ' Will you help me
to find the^ address of some lodgings where an actress is
132 LITTLE WHITE FROCK
staying ? I think it's somewhere round about Clapham.
I don't know the name of the landlady, or the name
of the street, or the number ? ' They would have
thought I was mad. Perhaps I was mad. Should I
go back to Lucy ? The child wouldn't know. . . . And
all this time Sophie was dying. Ah ! merciful God !
perhaps she would die. If she died before I found
her, she would die in the happy belief that the frock
had been worn. Her last hours would be blessed with
dreams, visions of purity and joy . . . whilst I ... I
should have no place in them, perhaps . . . but I, too,
after all, I'd suffered for her sake. Who knows ? . . .
Who know ... ? "
His voice broke off in a low sob. I leant forward
watching his face, racked with anguish. The room was
extraordinarily still. ... I dared not look at Alice, but
I was conscious of the pearly sheen of her frock under
the lamp. Away in the distance one could hear the
rumble of the traffic on the High-road. The remorse-
less tick of the clock was the only sound in the room.
Once I thought it ticked louder, and then I realized
that it was some one tapping gently at the door. The
door opened a little way, and against the dim light in
the passage appeared the gaunt face of the old serving-
woman, phantom-like, unreal. . . .
" Excuse me, sir." She peered into the room. The
old actor gazed at her with unseeing eyes. He stood with
one hand on tlie back of the chair, and across the other
ann lay the white frock ; a dignified and pathetic figure.
" I'm sorry to trouble you, sir,"
LITTLE WHITE FROCK 133
"Yes, Mrs. Windsor?"
" My little niece 'as just called. I can't find it any-
where — that little frock I made for 'er last week. I
put it in the chest. I thought perhaps you might 'ave
. . . Oh ! there it is, sir. Do you mind — ? Thank
you very much, sir. I'm sorry to have disturbed the
In the sanctuary of our bedroom that night, my wife
" Did you a-eally believe that that writing on the
photograph was by Henry Irving ? "
" My dear," I answered, " Avhen their careers are
finished, the painter, the author, the architect or the
sculptor may point to this or that, and say, ' Lo ! this
is my handiwork.' But to the actor nothing remains
but — memories. Their permanence lies in the mem-
ories of those who loved them. Are we to begiTidge
them all the riches of imagination ? After all, what is
the line of demarcation between what we call reality
and what we call imagination ? Is not the imagery in-
voked by Shelley when he sings of dubious myths as
real a fact as the steel rivets in the Forth Bridge?
What is reality ? Indeed, what is life ? "
" I don't know what life is," answered my wife,
switching off the light. " But I know what you are.
You're a dear old — perfect old — BOOB ! "
" Alice, what do you mean ? " I said.
She laughed softly.
" Women are ' equipped,' you know," she replied
enigmatically, and insisted on going to sleep.
A GOOD ACTION
A GOOD ACTION
IT is undoubtedly tnie that the majority of us per-
form the majority of our actions through what are
commonly known as mixed motives.
It would certainly have been quite impossible for Mr.
Edwin Pothecary to analyze the concrete impulse which
eventually prompted him to perform his good action.
It may have been a natural revolt from the somewhat
petty and cramped punctilio of his daily life; his drab
home life, the bickering, wearing, grasping routine of
the existence of fish-and-chips dispenser. A man who
earns his livelihood by buying fish and potatoes in
the cheapest market, and selling them in the Waterloo
Eoad cannot afford to indulge his altruistic fancies to
any lavish extent. It is true that the business of Mr.
Edwin Pothecary was a tolerably successful one — he
employed three assistants and a boy named Scales
who was not so much an assistant as an encumbrance
and wholesale plate-smasher. Mr. Pothecary engaged
him because he thought his name seemed appropriate to
the fish-trade. In a weak moment he pandered to this
sentimental whim, another ingredient in the strange
composition which influences us to do this, that, and
the other. But it was not by pandering to whims of
this nature that Mr. Pothecary had built up this pro-
gi'essive and odoriferous business with its gay shop
138 A GOOD ACTIOI^
front of blue and brown tiles. It was merely a minor
lapse. In the fish-and-cbip trade one has to be keen,
pushful, self-reliant, ambidexterous, a student of human
nature, forbearing, far-seeing, imaginative, courageous,
something of a controversialist with a streak of fatalism
as pronounced as that of a high-priest in a Brahmin
temple. It is better, moreover, to have an imperfect
nasal organism, and to be religious.
Edwin had all these qualities. Every day he went
from Quince Villa at Buffington to London — forty
minutes in the train — and back at night. On Sunday
he took the wife and three children to the Methodist
Chapel at the comer of the street to both morning and
evening services. But even this religious observance
does not give us a complete solution for the sudden
prompting of an idea to do a good action. Edwin had
attended chapel for fifty-two years and such an impulse
had never occurred to him before. He may possibly
have been influenced by some remark of the preacher,
or was it that twinge of gout which set him thinking
of the unwritten future ? Had it anything to do with
the Boy-Scout movement ? Some one at some time had
told him of an underlying idea — that every day in
one's life one should do one pure, good and unselfish
Perhaps after all it was all due to the gayety of a
spring morning. Certain it is that as he swung out of
the garden gate on that morning in April something
stirred in him. His round puffy face blinked heaven-
wards. Almond blossoms fluttered in the breeze above
A GOOD ACTION 139
the hedgerows. Larks were singing. . . . Suddenly
his eye alighted upon the roof of the Peels' hen-house
opposite and Mr. Edwin Pothecary scowled. Lord!
How he hated those people! The Peels were Pothe-
cary's hetes-noires. Snobs! Pirates! Rotters!
The Peels' villa was at least three times as big as
the Pothecarys'. It was, in fact, not a villa at all. It
was a " Court " — whatever that was. It was quite
detached, with about fourteen rooms in all, a coach-
house, a large garden, and two black sheds containing
forty-five fowls, leading an intensive existence. The
Pothecarys had five fowls which sometimes did and
sometimes didn't supply them with two or three eggs
a day, but it was known that the Peels sent at least two
hundred and fifty eggs to market every week, besides
supplying their own table. Mr. Peel was a successful
dealer in quills and bristles. His wife was the daughter
of a post office official and they had three stuck up
daughters who would have no truck at all with the
Pothecarys. You may appreciate then the twinge of
venom which marked the face of Edwin as he passed
through his front gate and observed the distant roof
of the Peels' fowl-house. And still the almond blos-
soms nodded at him above the hedge. The larks
sang. . . . After all, was it fair to hate any one because
they were better off than oneself? Strange how these
moods obsess one. The soft air caressed Edwin's cheek.
Little flecks of cloud scudded gayly into the suburban
panorama. Small green shoots were appearing every-
where. One ought not to hate any one at all — of
140 A GOOD ACTION
course. It is absurd. So bad for oneself, apart from
the others. One ought rather to be kind, forgiving,
loving all mankind. Was that a lark or a thrush?
He knew little about birds. Fish now! ... A not
entirely unsatisfactory business really the fried fish
trade — when things went well. When customers were
numerous and not too cantankerous. Quite easy to run,
profitable. A boy came singing down the road. The
villas clustered together more socially. There was a
movement of spring life. . . .
As Edwin turned the corner of the Station Road, the
impulse crystallized. One good action. To-day he
would perform one good, kind, unselfish, unadvertised
action. 'No one should ever know of it. Just one to-
day. Then perhaps one to-morrow. And so on; in
time it might become a habit. That is how one pro-
gressed. He took his seat in the crowded third-class
smoker and pretended to read his newspaper, but his
mind was too actively engaged with the problems of his
new resolution. How? When? Where? How does
one do a definitely good action ? What is the best way
to go to work ? One could, of course, just quietly slip
some money into a poor-box if one could be found.
But would this be very good and self-sacrificing ? Who
gets money put in a poor-box ? Surely his own family
were poor enough, as far as that went. But he couldn't
go back home and give his wife a sovereign. It would
be advertising his charity, and he would look silly doing
it. His business? He might turn up and say to his
assistants: "Boys, you shall all have a day's holiday.
A GOOD ACTION 141
We'll shut up, and here's your pay for the day." Ad-
vertising again ; besides, what about the hundreds of
poor workers in the neighborhood who relied for their
mid-day sustenance on " Pothecary's Pride-of-the-Ocean
Popular Plaice to Eat ? " It would be cruel, ciiiel and
— bad for business in the future. The public would
lose confidence in that splendid gold-lettered tablet in
the window which said " Cod, brill, halibut, plaice,
pilchards always on hand. Eat them or take them
The latter sentence did not imply that if you took
them away you did not eat them ; it simply meant that
you could either stand at the counter and eat them from
a plate with the aid of a fork and your fingers (or at
one of the wooden benches if you could find room —
an unlikely contingency, alternatively you could
wrap them up in a piece of newspaper and devour them
without a fork at the comer of the street.
No, it would not be a good action in any way to
close the Popular Plaice to eat. Edwin came to the
conclusion that to perform this act satisfactorily it
were better to divorce the proceeding entirely from any
connection with home or business. The two things
didn't harmonize. A good action must be a special
and separate effort in an entirely different setting. He
would take the day off himself and do it thoroughly.
Mr. Pothecary was known in the neighborhood of the
Waterloo Road as " The Stinker," a title easily earned
by the peculiar qualities of his business and the obvious
additional fact that a Pothecary was a chemist. He
142 A GOOD ACTION
was a very small man, bald-headed with yellowy-white
side whiskers, a blue chin, a perambulating nostril with
a large wart on the port side. He wore a square bowler
hat which seemed to thrust out the protruding flaps of
his large ears. His greeny-black clothes were always
too large for him and ended in a kind of thick spiral
above his square-toed boots. He always wore a flat
white collar — more or less clean — and no tie. This
minor defect was easily atoned for by a heavy silver
chain on his waistcoat from which hung gold seals and
ribbons connecting with watches, knives, and all kinds
of ingenious appliances in his waistcoat pockets.
The noble intention of his day was a little chilled on
his arrival at the shop. In the first place, although cus-
tomers were then arriving for breakfast, the boy Scales
was slopping water over the front step. Having se-
verely casitigated the miscreant youth and prophesied
that his chances of happiness in the life to come were
about as remote as those of a dead dog-fish in the upper
reaches of the Thames, he made his way through the
customers to the room at the back, and there he met
Dolling was Edwin's manager, and he cannot be over-
looked. In the first place, he was remarkably like a fish
himself. He had the same dull expressionless eyes and
the drooping mouth and drooping mustache. Every-
thing about him drooped and dripped. He was always
wet. He wore a gray flannel shirt and no collar or tie.
His braces, trousers, and hair all seemed the same color.
He hovered in the background with a knife, and did
A GOOD ACTION 143
the cutting up and dressing. He had, moreover, all the
taciturnity of a fish, and its peculiar ability for getting
out of a difficulty. He never spoke. He simply looked
lugubrious, and pointed at things with his knife. And
yet Edwin knew that he was an excellent manager.
For it must be observed that in spite of the gold-lettered
board outside with its fanfare of cod, brill, halibut,
plaice and pilchards, whatever the customer asked for,
by the time it had passed through Boiling's hand it was
just f.sli. No nonsense about it at all. Just plain
fish leveled with a uniform brovm crust. If you asked
for cod you got jish. If you asked for halibut you also
got fisJi. Dolling was something of an artist.
On this particular morning, as Edward entered the
back room, Dolling was scratching the side of his head
with the knife he used to cut up the fish ; a sure sign
that he was perplexed about something. It was not
customary to exchange greetings in this business, and
when he observed " the guv'nor " enter he just withdrew
the knife from his hair and pointed it at a packing case
on the side table. Edwin knew what this meant. He
went up and pressed his flat nose against the chest of
what looked like an over-worked amphibian that had
been turned down by its own Trades Union. Edwin
sneezed before he had had time to withdraw his nose.
"Yes, that's a dud lot," he said. And then sud-
denly an inspirational moment nearly overwhelmed
him. Here was a chance. He would turn to Dolling
"Dolling, this fish is slightly tainted. We must
144 A GOOD ACTION
throw it away. We bought it at our risk. Yesterday
morning when it arrived it was just all right, but keep-
ing it in that hot room downstairs where you and your
wife sleep has probably finished it. We mustn't give
it to our customers. It might poison them — ptomaine
poison, you know . . . eh. Dolling? " It would be a
good action, a self-sacrificing action, eh ? But when
he glanced at the face of Dolling he knew that such
an explosion would be unthinkable. It would be like
telling a duck it mustn't swim, or an artist that he
mustn't paint, or a boy on a beach that he mustn't
throw stones in the sea. It was the kind of job that
Dolling enjoyed. In the course of a few hours he
knew quite well that whatever he said, the mysterious
and evil-smelling monster would be served out in dainty
parcels of halibut, cod, brill, plaice, etc.
Business was no place for a good action. Too many
others depended on it, were involved in it. Edwin went
up to Dolling and shouted in his ear — he was rather
" I'm going out. I may not be back to-day."
Dolling stared at the wall. He appeared about as
interested in the statement as a cod might be that had
just been informed that a Chinese coolie had won the
Calcutta sweep-stake. Edwin crept out of the shop
abashed. He felt horribly uncomfortable. He heard
some one mutter : " Where's The Stinker off to ? " and
he realized how impossible it would be to explain to
any one there present that he was off to do a good action.
" I will go to some outlying suburb," he thought.
A GOOD ACTION 145
Once outside in the sunshine he tried to get back into
the benign mood. He traveled right across London and
made for Golders Green and Heudon, a part of the world
foreign to him. By the time he had boarded the
Golders Green 'bus he had quite recovered himself. It
was still a brilliant day. '' The better the day the better
the deed," he thought aptly. He hummed inaudibly;
that is to say, he made curious crooning noises some-
where behind his silver chain and signets; the sound
was happily suppressed by the noise of the 'bus.
It seemed a very long journey. It was just as they
were going through a rather squalid district near
Cricklewood that the golden chance occurred to him.
The fares had somewhat thinned. There were scarcely
a dozen people in the 'bus. Next to him barely a yard
away he observed a poor woman with a baby in her
arms. She had a thin, angular, wasted face, and her
clothes were threadbare but neat. A poor, thoroughly
honest and deserving creature, making a bitter fight of
it against the buffets of a cruel world. Edwin's heart
was touched. Here was his chance. He noticed that
from her wrist was suspended a shabby black bag, and
the bag was open. He would slip up neai- her and drop
in a half-crown. What joy and rapture when she ar-
rived home and found the unexpected treasure! An
unknown benefactor ! Edwin chuckled and wormed his
way suiTeptitiously along the seat. Stealthily he
fingered his half-crown and hugged it in the palm of
his left hand. His heart beat with the excitement of
his exploit. He looked out of the window opposite and
146 A GOOD ACTION"
fumbled his hand towards the opening in the bag. He
touched it. Suddenly a sharp voice rang out:
" That man's picking your pocket ! "
An excited individual opposite was pointing at him.
The woman uttered an exclamation and snatched at her
bag. The baby cried. The conductor rang the bell.
Every one seemed to be closing in on Edwin. In-
stinctively he snatched his hand away and thrust it in
his pocket (the most foolish thing he could have done).
Every one was talking. A calm muscular-looking gen-
tleman who had not spoken seized Edwin by the wrist
and said calmly:
" Look in your bag, Madam, and see whether he has
The 'bus came to a halt. Edwin muttered :
" I assure you — nothing of the sort — "
How could he possibly explain that he was doing just
the opposite ? Would a single person believe a word of
his yam about the half-crown? The woman whim-
" ISTo, 'e ain't taken nothin', bad luck to 'im. There
was only four pennies and a 'alfpenny anyway. Dirty
"Are you goin' to give 'im in charge?" asked the
" Yer can't if 'e ain't actually taken nothin', can
yer ? The dirty thievin' swine try in' to rob a 'ard
workin' 'onest woman ! "
" I wasn't ! I wasn't ! " feebly spluttered Edwin,
blushing a ripe beetroot color.
A GOOD ACTION 147
" Shame ! Shame ! Chuck 'im off the 'bus ! Dirty
sneak ! Call a copper ! " were some of the remarks
being hurled about.
The conductor was losing time and patience. He
beckoned vigorously to Edwin and said:
" Come on, off you go ! "
There was no appeal. He got up and slunk out.
Popular opinion was too strong against him. As he
stepped off the back board, the conductor gave him a
parting kick which sent him flying on to the pavement.
It was an operation received with shrieks of laughter
and a round of applause from the occupants of the
vehicle, taken up by a small band of other people who
had been attracted by the disturbance. He darted down
a back street to the accompaniment of boos and jeers.
It says something for Edwin Pothecary that this
unfortunate rebuff to his first attempt to do a good
action did not send him helter-skelter back to the fried
fish shop in the Waterloo Road. He felt crumpled,
bruised, mortified, disappointed, discouraged; but is
not the path of all martyrs and reformers strewn with
similar debris ? Are not all really disinterested actions
liable to misconstruction ? He went into a dairy and
partook of a glass of milk and a bun. Then he started
out again. He would see more rural, less sophisticated
people. In the country there must be simple, kindly
people, needing his help. He walked for several hours
with but a vague sense of direction. At last he came
to a public park. A group of dirty boys were seated
on the grass. They were apparently having a banquet.
148 A GOOD ACTION
They did not seem to require liim. He passed on, and
came to an enclosure. Suddenly between some rhodo-
dendron bushes he looked into a small dell. On a
seat by himself was an elderly man in a shabby suit.
He looked the picture of misery and distress. His
hands were resting on his knees, and his eyes were
fixed in a melancholy scrutiny on the ground. It was
obvious that some great trouble obsessed him. He was
as still as a shadow. It was the figure of a man lost
in the past or — contemplating suicide ? Edwin's
breath came quickly. He made his way to him. In
order to do this it was necessary to climb a railing.
There was probably another way round, but was there
time? At any minute there might be a sudden move-
ment, the crack of a revolver. Edwin tore his trousers
and scratched his forearm, but he managed to enter the
dell unobserved. He approached the seat. The man
never looked up. Then Edwin said with sympathetic
tears in his voice:
" My poor fellow, may I be of any assistance — ? "
There was a disconcerting jar. The melancholy indi-
vidual started and turned on him angrily :
" Blast you ! I'd nearly got it ! What the devil are
you doing here?"
And without waiting for an answer he darted away
among the trees. At the same time a voice called over
the park railings :
" Ho ! you, there, what are you doing over there ?
You come back the way you came. I saw yer."
The burly figure of a park-keeper with gaiters and
A GOOD ACTIOi^ 149
stout stick beckoned him. Edwin got up and clambered
back again, scratching his arm.
" Xow then/' said the keeper. " Kame, address, age,
and occupation, if you please."
" I was only — " began Edwin. But what was he
only doing? Could he explain to a park-keeper that
he was only about to do a kind action to a poor man ?
He spluttered and gave his name, address, age, and
" Oh," exclaimed the keeper. " Fried fish, eh ? And
what were you trying to do? Get orders? Or were
you begging from his lordship? "
" That man you was speaking to was Lord Budleigh-
Salterton, the great scientist. lie's thinkin' out 'is great
invention, otherwise I'd go and ask ^im if 'e wanted to
prosecute yer for being in 'is park on felonious intent
" I assure you — " stammered Mr. Pothecary.
The park-keeper saw him well off the premises, and
gave him much gratuitous advice about his future be-
havior, darkened with melancholy prophecies regarding
the would-be felon's strength of character to live up to it.
Leaving the park he struck out towards the more
rural neighlwrhood. He calculated that he must be
somewhere in the neighborhood of Hendon. At the
end of a lane he met a sallow-faced young man walking
rapidly. His eyes were bloodshot and restless. He
glanced at Edwin and stopped.
" Excuse me, sir," he said. ,
150 A GOOD ACTION
Edwin drew himself to attention. The young man
looked up and down nervously. He was obviously in a
great state of distress.
" What can I do for you ? "
"I — I — h-hardly like to ask you, sir, I — "
He stammered shockingly. Edwin turned on his
most sympathetic manner.
" You are suffering. What is it ? "
" Sh-Sh-Shell-shock, shir."
At last! Some heroic reflex of the war darted
through Edwin's mind. Here was his real chance at
last. A poor fellow broken by the war and in need,
neglected by an ungrateful country. Almost hidden by
his outer coat he observed one of those little strips of
colored ribbon, which implied more than one campaign.
" Where did you meet your trouble ? " he asked.
" P — P — P-Palestine, sir, capturing a T-T-Turkish
redoubt. I was through Gallipoli, too, sir, but I won't
d-d-distress you. I am in a — in a — hospital at St.
Albans, came to see my g-g-g-girl, but she's g-g-g-gone
— v-v-vanished. . . ."
" You don't say so ! "
" T-t-trouble is I 1-1-1-lost my p-pass back. N-not
quite enough m-mon — "
" Dear me ! How much short are you ? "
" S-S-S-Six shill — S-S-S-Six — "
" Six shillings ? Well, I'm very sorry. Look here,
my good fellow, here's seven-and-sixpence and God bless
you ! "
A GOOD ACTION 151
" T-T-thank you very much, sir. W-will you give me
your n-name and — "
" No, no, no, that's quite all right. I'm very pleased
to be of assistance. Please forget all about it.'''
He pressed the soldier's hand and hurried on. It
was done. He had performed a kind, unselfish action
and no one should ever hear of it. Mr. Pothecary's
eyes glowed with satisfaction. Poor fellow ! even if the
story were slightly exaggerated, what did it matter?
He was obviously a discharged soldier, ill, and in need.
The seven-and-sixpence would make an enormous differ-
ence. He would always cherish the memory of his
kind, unkno\vn benefactor. It was a glorious sensa-
tion! Why had he never thought of doing a kindly
act? It was inspiring, illuminating, almost intoxicat-
ing ! He recalled with zest the delirious feeling which
ran through him when he said, " No, no, no ! " He
would not give his name. He was the good Samaritan,
a ship passing in the night. And now he would be
able to go home, or go back to his business. He swung
down the lane, singing to himself. As he turned the
comer he came to a low bungalow-building. It was
in a rather deserted spot. It had a board outside which
announced " Tea, cocoa, light refreshments. Cyclists
It was past mid-day, and although tea and cocoa had
never made any great appeal to the gastronomic fancies
of Edwin Pothecary, he felt in his present spiritually
elevated mood that here was a suitable spot for a well-
merited rest and lunch.
1.52 A GOOD ACTION
He entered a deserted room, filled with light oak
chairs, and tables with green-tiled tops on which were
placed tin vases containing dried ferns. A few blue-
bottles darted away from the tortuous remains of what
had once apparently been a ham, lurking behind tall
bottles of sweets on the counter. The room smelt of
soda and pickles. Edwin rapped on the table for some
time, but no one came. At last a woman entered from
the front door leading to the garden. She was fat and
out of breath.
Edwin coughed and said:
" Good-mornin', madam. May I have a bite of some-
thin' ? "
The woman looked at him and continued panting.
When her pulmonary contortions had somewhat sub-
sided she said:
" I s'pose you 'aven't seen a pale young man up the
It was difficult to know what made him do it, but
Edwin lied. He said :
" Oh ! " she replied. " I don't know where 'e's got
to. 'E's not s'posed to go out of the garden. 'E's
been ill, you know."
" 'E's my nefyer, but I can't always keep an eye on
'im. 'E's a bright one, 'e is. I shall 'ave 'im sent
back to the 'ome."
" Ah, poor fellow ! I suppose he was — injured in
the war ? "
A GOOD ACTION 153
"War!" The plump lady snorted. She became
almost aggressive and confidential. She came close up
to Edwin and shook her finger backwards and forwards
in front of his eyes.
" I'll tell yer 'ow much war 'e done. When they
talked about conscription, 'e got that frightened, 'e
went out every day and tried to drink himself from a
Al man into a C III man, and by God ! 'e succeeded."
" You don't say so ! "
" I do say so. And more. When 'is turn came, 'e
was in the 'orspital with Delirious Trimmings."
" 'E's only just come out. 'E's all right as long as 'e
don't get 'old of a little money."
" What do you mean ? "
" If 'e can get 'old of the price of a few whiskies,
'e'll 'ave another attack come on ! What are yer goin'
ter 'ave — tea or cocoa ? "
" I must go ! I must go ! " exclaimed the only cus-
tomer Mrs. Boggins had had for two days, and gripping
his umbrella he dashed out of the shop.
" Good Lord ! there's another one got 'em ! " ejacu-
lated the good landlady. " I wonder whether 'e pinched
anything while I was out? 'Ere! Come back, you
dirty little bow-legged swipe ! "
But Mr. Pothecary was racing down the lane, mutter-
ing to himself : " Yes, that was a good action ! A very
good action indeed ! "
A mile further on he came to a straggling village,
a forlorn unkempt spot, only relieved by a gaudy inn
154 A GOOD ACTION
called " The Two Tumblers." Edwin staggered into the
private bar and drank two pints of Government ale and
a double gin as the liquid accompaniment to a hunk
of bread and cheese.
It was not tiU he had lighted his pipe after the
negotiation of these delicacies that he could again focus
his philosophical outlook. Then he thought to himself :
" It's a rum thing 'ow difficult it is to do a good action.
You'd think it 'd be dead easy, but everythin' seems
against yer. One must be able to do it somewhere.
P'raps one ought to go abroad, among foreigners and
black men. That's it ! That's why all these 'ere Bible
Society people go out among black people, Chinese and
so on. They find there's nothin' doin' over 'ere."
Had it not been for the beer and gin it is highly
probable that Edwin would have given up the project,
and have returned to fish and chips. But lying back
in a comfortable seat in " The Two Tumblers " his
thoughts mellowed. He felt broad-minded, comfort-
able, tolerant . . . one had to make allowances. There
must be all sorts of ways. Money wasn't the only
thing. Besides, he was spending too much. He
couldn't afford to go on throwing away seven-and-six-
pences. One must be able to help people — by helping
them. Doing things for them which didn't cost money.
He thought of Sir Walter Baleigh throwing down his
cloak for Queen Elizabeth to walk over. Romantic but
— extravagant and silly, really a shrewd political move,
no doubt; not a good action at all. If he met an ill-
clad tramp he could take off his coat and wrap round
A GOOD ACTION 155
his shoulders and then — ? Walk home to Quince
Villa in his braces ? Wliat would Mrs. Pothecarv have
to say ? Phew ! One could save people from drown-
ing, but he didn't know how to swim. Fire! Per-
haps there would be a fire. lie could swann up a ladder
and save a woman from the top bedroom window.
Heroic, but hardly inconspicuous ; not exactly what he
had meant. Besides, the firemen would never let him ;
they always kept these showy stunts for themselves.
There miist be something. . . .
He walked out of " The Two Tumblers."
Crossing the road, he took a turning off the High
Street. He saw a heavily-built woman carrying a
basket of washing. He hurried after her, and raising
his hat, said : " Excuse me, madam, may I carry your
basket for you ? "
She turned on him suspiciously and glared:
" No, thanks, Mr. Bottle-nose. I've 'ad some of that
before. You 'op it! Mrs. Jaggs 'ad 'ers pinched last
week that way."
" Of course," he thought to himself as he hurried
away. " The trouble is I'm not dressed for the part.
A bloomin' swell can go about doin' good actions all day
and not arouse suspicions. If I try and 'elp a girl off
a, tram-car I get my face slapped."
Mr. Pothecary was learning. He was becoming a
complete philosopher, but it was not till late in the
afternoon that he suddenly realized that patience and
industry are always rewarded. He was appealed to by
a maiden in distress.
156 A GOOD ACTION"
It came about in this way. He found the atmos-
phere of Northern London entirely unsympathetic to
good deeds. All his action appeared suspect. He be-
gan to feel at last like a criminal. He was convinced
that he was being watched and followed. Once he
patted a little girl's head in a paternal manner. Imme-
diately a woman appeared at a doorway and bawled out :
" 'Ere, Lizzie, you come inside ! "
At length in disgust he boarded a south-bound 'bus.
He decided to experiment nearer home. He went to
the terminus and took a train to the station just before
his own. It was a small town called Uplingham. This
should be the last dance of the moral philanderer. If
there was no one in Uplingham upon whom he could
perform a good action, he would just walk home —
barely two miles — and go to bed and forget all about
it. To-morrow he would return to Fish-and-chips, and
the normal behavior of the normal citizen.
Uplingham was a dismal little town, consisting
mostly of churches, chapels and pubs, and apparently
quite deserted. As Edwin wandered through it there
crept over him a sneaking feeling of relief. If he
met no one — well, there it was, he had done his best ;
and he could go home with a clear conscience. After
all it was the spirit that counted in these things. . . .
" 0-o-oh ! "
He was passing a small stone church, standing back
on a little frequented lane. The maiden was seated
alone in the porch and she was crying. Edwin bustled
through the gate and as he approached her he had time
A GOOD ACTION 157
to observe that she was young, quietly dressed, and dis-
" You are in trouble," he said in his most feeling
She looked up at him quickly, and dabbed her eyes.
" I've lost my baby ! I've lost my baby ! " she cried.
"Dear, dear, that's very unfortunate! How did it
happen ? "
She pointed at an empty perambulator in the porch.
" I waited an hour here for my friends and husband
and the clergyman. My baby was to be christened."
She gasped incoherently. " No one turned up. I went
across to the Vicarage. The Vicar was away. I be-
lieve I ought to have gone to St. Bride's. This is St.
Paul's. They didn't know anything about it. They
say people often make that mistake. "When I got back
the baby was gone. 0-o-o-oh ! "
" There, there, don't cry," said Mr. Pothecary.
" Now I'll go over to St. Bride's and find out about it."
" Oh, sir, do you mind waiting here with the peram-
bulator while I go? I want my baby. I want my
" Why, yes, of course, of course."
She dashed up the lane and left Mr. Pothecary in
charge of an empty perambulator. In fifteen minutes'
time a thick-set young man came hurrying up to the
porch. He looked at Edwin and pointing to the peram-
" Is this Mrs. Frank's or Mrs. Fred's ? "
" I don't know," said Edwin, rather testily.
158 A GOOD ACTION
" You don't know ! But you're old Binns, ain't
" No, I'm not."
The young man looked at him searchingly and then
disappeared. Ten minutes elapsed and then a small
boy rode up on a bicycle. He was also out of breath.
" Has Mrs. George been 'ere ? " he asked.
" I don't know," replied Edwin.
" Mr. Henderson says he's awfully sorry but he
won't be able to get away. You are to kiss the baby
" I don't know anything about it."
"This is St. Bride's, isn't it?"
" No, this is St. Paul's."
" Oh ! " The boy leapt on to the bicycle and also
" This is absurd," thought Edwin. " Of course, the
whole thing is as plain as daylight. The poor girl has
come to the wrong church. The whole party is at St.
Bride's, somebody must have taken the baby on there.
I might as well take the perambulator along. They'll
be pleased. Now I wonder which is the way."
He wheeled the perambulator into the lane. There
was no one about to ask. He progressed nearly two
hundred yards till he came to a field with a pond in it.
This was apparently the wrong direction. He was star-
ing about when he suddenly became aware of a hue and
cry. A party of people came racing down the lane
headed by the thick-set man, who was exclaiming:
" There he is ! There he is ! "
A GOOD ACTION 159
Edwin felt his heart beating. This was going to be a
little embarrassing. Thej closed on him. The thick-
set man seized his wrists and at the same time re-
" See he hasn't any firearms on him, Frank."
The large man alluded to as Frank gripped him from
" What have you done with my baby ? " he demanded
" I 'aven't seen no baby," yelped Mr. Pothecary.
" Oh ! 'Aven't yer ! What are yer doin' with my
perambulator then ? "
" I'm takin' it to St. Bride's Church."
" Goin' in the opposite direction."
" I didn't know the way."
" Wliere's the babv ? "
" I 'aven't seen it. I tell yer. The mother said she'd
" What the hell ! Do you know the mother's in bed
sick ? You're a liar, my man, and we're goin' to take
you in charge. If you've done anything to my baby
I'll kill you with my hands."
" That's it, Frank. Let 'im 'ave it. Throw 'im in
the pond ! "
" I tell yer I don't know anythin' about it all, with
yer Franks, Freds and Georges ! Go to the devil, all of
In spite of his protestations, some one produced a
rope and they handcuffed him and tied him to the gate
of the field. A small crowd had collected and began
160 A GOOD ACTIOIT
to boo and jeer. A man from a cottage hard by pro-
duced a drag, and between them they dragged the pond,
as the general belief was that Edwin had tied a stone
to the baby and thrown it in and was then just about to
The uproar continued for some time, mud and stones
being thrown about rather carelessly.
The crowd became impatient that no baby was found
in the pond. At length another man turned up on a
bicycle and called out :
"What are you doing, Frank? You've missed the
christening ! "
" What ! "
" Old Binns turned up with the nipper all right.
He'd come round the wrong way."
The crowd was obviously disappointed at the release
of Edwin, and the father's only solatium was:
" Well, it's lucky for you, old bird ! "
He and his friends trundled the perambulator away
rapidly across the fields. Edwin had hardly time to
give a sigh of relief before he found himself the center
of a fresh disturbance. He was approaching the church
when another crowd assailed him, headed by the for-
lorn maiden. She was still in a state of distress, but
she was hugging a baby to her.
" Ah ! You've found the baby ! " exclaimed Edwin,
trying to be amiable.
" Where is the perambulator ? " she demanded.
" Your 'usband 'as taken it away, madam. He
seemed to think I — "
A GOOD ACTION IGl
A tall frig-id young man stepped forward and said :
"Excuse me, I am the lady's husband. Will you
please explain yourself ? "
Then Edwin lost his temper.
" Well, damn it, I don't know who you all are ! "
" The case is quite clear. You volunteered to take
charge of the perambulator while my wife was absent.
On her return you announce that it is spirited away. I
shall hold you responsible for the entire cost — nearly
" Make it a thousand/' roared Edwin. " I'm 'aving
a nice cheap day."
" I don't wish for any more of your insolence, either.
My wife has had a very trying experience. The baby
has been christened Fred."
" Well, what's the matter with that ? '^
" ISTothing," screamed the mother. " Only that it is
a girl! It's a girl and it has been duly christened
Fred in a Christian church., Oh ! there's been an
" It's not this old fool's fault," interpolated the el-
derly woman quietly. " You see, Mrs. Frank and Mrs.
Fred Smith were both going to have their babies chris-
tened to-day. Only Mrs. Frank was took sick, and
sent me along with the child. I went to the wrong
church and thinkin' there was some mistake, went back
home. Mrs. Frank's baby's never been christened at
all. In the meantime, the ceremony was ready to start
at St. Paul's and Frank 'isself was there. Ko baby.
They sends old Binns to scout around at other churches.
162 A GOOD ACTION
People do make mistakes — finds this good lady's child
all primed up for christening in the church door, and
no one near, carries it off. In the meantime, the father
had gone on the ramp. It's him that probably went off
with the perambulator and trounced you up a bit, old
sport. It'll learn you not to interfere so much in fu-
" And the baby's christened Fred ! " wailed the
mother. " My baby ! My Gwendoline ! " And she
looked at Edwin with bitter recrimination in her eyes.
There was still a small crowd following and boys
were jeering, and a fox-terrier, getting very excited,
jumped up and bit Mr. Pothecary through the seat of
his trousers. He struck at it with his stick, and hit a
small boy, whose mother happened to be present. The
good lady immediately entered the lists.
" Baby-killer. . . . Hun ! " were the last words he
heard as he was chased up the street and across the
fields in the direction of his own village.
Wlien he arrived it was nearly dark. Mr. Pothecary
was tired, dirty, battered, torn, outraged, bruised and
hatless. And his spirit hardened. The forces of re-
action surged through him. He was done with good
actions. He felt vindictive, spiteful, wicked. Slowly
he took the last turning and his eye once more alighted
on — the Peels's fowl house.
And there came to him a vague desire to end his day
by performing some action the contraiy to good, some-
thing spiteful, petty, malign. His soul demanded some
recompense for its abortive energies. And then he re-
A GOOD ACTION 163
membercd that the Peels were away. They were re-
turnin<2: late that evening. The two intensive fowl-
houses were at the end of the kitchen garden, where all
the young spring cabbages and peas had just been
planted. They could be approached between a slit in
the narrow black fence adjacent to a turnip field.
Rather a long way round. A simple and rather futile
plan sprang into his mind, but he was too tired to think
of anything more criminal or diabolic.
He would creep round to the back, get through the
fence, force his way into the fowl-house. Then he
would kick out all those expensive Rhode Island pam-
pered hens and lock them out. Inside he would upset
everything and smash the place to pieces. The fowls
would get all over the place. They would eat the young
vegetables. Some of them would get lost, stolen by
gypsies, killod by rats. What did he care? The Peels
would probably not discover the outrage till the mor-
row, and they would never know who did it. Edwin
chuckled inwardly, and rolled his eyes like the smooth
villain of a fit-up melodrama. He glanced up and
down to see that no one was looking, then he got across
a gate and entered the turnip field.
Within five minutes he was forcing the door of the
fowl-house with a spade. The fowls were already set-
tling down for the night, and they clucked rather alarm-
ingly, but Edwin's blood was up. He chased them all
out, forty-five of them, and made savage lunges at them
with his feet. Then he upset all the com he could
find, and poured water on it and jumped on it. He
164 A GOOD ACTION"
smashed the complicated invention suspended from the
ceiling, whereby the fowls had to reach up and get one
grain of com at a time. To his joy he found a pot of
green paint, which he flung promiscuously over the
walls and floor (and incidentally his clothes).
Then he crept out and bolted both of the doors.
The sleepy creatures were standing about outside,
some feebly pecking about on the ground. He chased
them through into the vegetable garden ; then he rubbed
some of the dirt and paint from his clothes and returned
to the road.
When he arrived home he said to his wife :
" I fell off a tram on Waterloo Bridge. Lost my
He was cold and wet and his teeth were chattering.
His wife bustled him off to bed and gave him a little
Between the sheets he recovered contentment. He
gurgled exultantly at this last and only satisfying ex-
ploit of the day. He dreamed lazily of the blind rage
of the Peels. . . .
It must have been half-past ten when his wife came
up to bring him some hot gruel. He had been asleep.
She put the cup by the bedside and rearranged his
" Feeling better ? " she asked.
" Yes. I'm right," he murmured.
She sat on a chair by the side of the bed and after a
few minutes remarked:
A GOOD ACTION 165
" You've missed an excitement while you've been
" Oh ? "
" The Peels came home about an hour and a half ago
and found the place on fire at the back."
" Their cook Lizzie has been over. She said some
straw near the wash-house must have started it. It's
burnt out the wash-house and both the fowl-houses.
She says Mr. Peel says he don't care very much be-
cause he was heavily insured for the lot. But the
funny thing is, the fowls wasn't insured and they've
found the whole lot down the field on the rabbit-
hutches. Somebody must have got in and let the
whole lot out. It was a fine thing to do, or else the
poor things would have been burnt up. What's the
matter, 'Ned ? Is the gruel too hot ? "
IT is always disturbing to me when things fall into
pattern fomi, when in fact incidents of real life
dovetail with each other in such a manner as to
suggest the shape of a story. A story is a nice neat
little thing with what is called a " working-up " and a
climax, and life is a clumsy, ungraspable thing, very
incomplete in its periods, and with a poor sense of cli-
max. In fact, death — which is a very uncertain
quantity — is the only definite note it strikes, and even
death has an uncomfortable w^ay of setting other things
in motion. If, therefore, in telling you about my
friend Mrs. Ward, I am driven to the usual shifts of
the story-teller, you must believe me that it is because
this narrative concerns visions: Mrs. Ward's visions,
my visions, and your visions. Consequently I am de-
pendent upon my own poor powers of transcription to
mold these visions into some sort of shape, and am
driven into the position of a story-teller against my will.
The first vision, then, concerns the back view of the
Sheldrake Eoad, which, as you know, butts on to the
railway embankment near Dalston Junction station.
If you are of an adventurous turn of mind you shall
accompany me, and we will creep up to the embank-
ment together and look down into these back yards.
170 THEM OTHERS
(We shall be liable to a fine of 40/-, according to a
bye-law of the Railway Company, for doing so, but the
experience will justify us.)
There are twenty-two of these small buff-brick houses
huddled together in this road, and there is surely no
more certain way of judging not only the character of
the individual inhabitants, but of their mode of life,
than by a survey of these somewhat pathetic yards. Is
it not, for instance, easy to determine the timid, well-
ordered mind of little Miss Person, the dressmaker at
number nine, by its garden of neat mud paths, with its
thin patch of meager grass, and the small bed of skimpy
geraniums? Cannot one read the tragedy of those
dreadful Alleson people at number four ? The garden
is a wilderness of filth and broken bottles, where even
the weeds seem chary of establishing themselves. In
fact, if we listen carefully — and the trains are not
making too much noise — we can hear the shrill cre-
scendo of Mrs. Alleson's voice cursing at her husband
in the kitchen, the half-empty gin-bottle between them.
The methodical pushfulness and practicability of
young Mr. and Mrs. Andrew MacFarlane is evident at
number fourteen. They have actually grown a patch
of potatoes, and some scarlet-runners, and there is a
chicken run near the house.
Those irresponsible people, the O'Neals, have grown
a bod of hollyhocks, but for the rest the garden is untidy
and unkempt. One could almost swear they were con-
nected in some obscure way with the theatrical profes-
THEM OTHERS 171
Mrs. Abbot's garden is a sort of playground. It has
asphalt paths, always swanning with small and not too
clean children, and there are five lines of washing sus-
pended above the mud. Every day seems to be Mrs.
Abbot's washing-day. Perhaps she " does " for others.
Sam Abbot is certainly a lazy, insolent old rascal, and
such always seem destined to be richly fertile. Mrs.
Abbot is a pleasant " body," though. The Greens are
the swells of the road. George Green is in the grocery
line, and both his sons are earning good money, and one
daughter has piano lessons. The narrow strip of yard
is actually divided into two sections, a flower-garden
and a kitchen-garden. And they are the only people
who have flower-boxes in the front.
JSTumber eight is a curious place. Old Mr. Bilge
lives there. He spends most of his time in the garden,
but nothing ever seems to come up. He stands about
in his shirt-sleeves, and with a circular paper hat on
his head, like a printer. They say he was formerly a
com merchant but has lost all his money. He keeps
the garden very neat and tidy, but nothing seems to
grow. He stands there staring at the beds, as though
he found their barrenness quite unaccountable.
Number eleven is unoccupied, and number twelve is
We now come to an important vision, and I want you
to come down with me from the embankment and to
view Mrs. Ward's garden from inside, and aJso Mrs.
Ward as I saw her on that evening when I had oc-
casion to pay my first visit.
172 THEM OTHERS
It had been raining, but the sun had come out. We
wandered round the paths together, and I can see her
old face now, lined and seamed with years of anxious
toil and struggle; her long, bony arms, slightly with-
ered, but moving restlessly in the direction of snails and
" O dear ! O deai- ! " she was saying. " What with
the dogs, and the cats, and the snails, and the trains,
it's wonderful anything comes up at all ! "
Mrs. Ward's garden has a character of its own, and
I cannot account for it. There is nothing very special
growing — a few pansies and a narrow border of Lon-
don Pride, several clumps of unrecognizable things that
haven't flowered, the grass patch in only fair order,
and at the end of the garden an unfinished rabbit-hutch.
But there is about Mrs. Ward's garden an atmosphere.
There is something about it that reflects her placid eye,
the calm, somewhat contemplative way she has of look-
ing right through things, as though they didn't concern
her too closely. As though, in fact, she were too oc-
cupied with her own inner visions.
" ]^o," she says in answer to my query, " we don't
mind the trains at all. In fact, me and my Tom we
often come out here and sit after supper. And Tom
smokes his pipe. We like to hear the trains go by."
She gazes abstractedly at the embankment.
" I like to hear things . . . going on and that. It's
Dalston Junction a little further on. The trains go
from there to all parts, right out into the country they
THEM OTHERS 173
do . . . ever so far. . . . My Ernie went from Dais-
Slie adds the last in a changed tone of voice. And
now perhaps we come to the most important vision of
all — Mrs. Ward's vision of " my Eraie."
I ought perhaps to mention that I had never met " my
Ernie." I can only see him through Mrs. Ward's eyes.
At the time when I met her, he had been away at the
war for nearly a year. I need hardly say that " my
Ernie " was a paragon of sons. He was brilliant,
handsome, and incredibly clever. Everything that " my
Ernie " said was treasured. Every opinion that he ex-
pressed stood. If " my Ernie " liked any one, that
person was always a welcome guest. If " my Ernie "
disliked any one they were not to be tolerated, however
plausible they might appear.
I had seen Ernie's photograph, and I must confess
that ho appeared a rather weak, extremely ordinary-
looking young man, but then I would rather trust to
Mrs. Ward's visions than the art of any photographer.
Tom Ward was a mild, ineffectual-looking old man,
with something of Mrs. Ward's placidity but with noth-
ing of her strong individual poise. He had some job
in a gas-works. There was also a daughter named Lily,
a brilliant person who served in a tea-shop, and some-
times went to theaters with young men. To both hus-
band and daughter Mrs. Ward adopted an affection-
ate, mothering, almost pitying attitude. But with " my
Ernie " it was quite a different thing. I can see her
174 THEM OTHERS
stooping figure, and her silver-white hair gleaming in
the sun as we come to the unfinished rabbit-hutch, and
the curious wistful tones of her voice as she touches it
" When my Ernie comes home. . . ."
The war to her was some unimaginable but discon-
certing affair centered round Ernie. People seemed
to have got into some desperate trouble, and Ernie was
the only one capable of getting tliem out of it. I could
not at that time gauge how much Mrs. Ward realized
the dangers the boy was experiencing. She always
spoke with conviction that he would return safely.
JSTearly every other sentence contained some reference
to things that were to happen " when my Ernie comes
home." What doubts and fears she had were only
recognizable by the subtlest shades in her voice.
When we looked over the wall into the deserted gar-
den next door, she said :
" O dear ! I'm afraid they'll never let that place.
It's been empty since the Stellings went away. Oh,
years ago, before this old war."
It was on the occasion of my second visit that Mrs.
Ward told me more about the Stellings. It appeared
that they were a German family, of all things ! There
was a Mr, Stelling, and a Mrs. Frow Stelling, and two
Mr. Stelling was a watchmaker, and he came from a
THEM OTHERS 175
place called Bremen. It was a very sad story Mrs.
Ward told me. They had only been over here for ten
months when Mr. Stclling died, and Mrs. Frow Stell-
ing and the boys went back to Germany.
During the time of the Stellings' sojourn in the Shel-
drake Road it appeared that the Wards had seen quite
a good deal of them, and though it would be an ex-
aggeration to say that they ever became great friends,
they certainly got through, that period without any un-
pleasantness, and even developed a certain degree of
" Allowing for their being foreigners," Mrs. Ward
explained, " they were quite pleasant people."
On one or two occasions they invited each other to
supper, and I wish my visions were sufficiently clear
to envisage those two families indulging this social
According to Mrs. Ward, Mr. Stelling was a kind
little man with a round fat face. He spoke English
fluently, but ^Irs. Ward objected to his table man-
" Wben my Tom eats," she said, " you don't hear a
sound — I look after that ! — But that Mr. Stelling
. . . O dear!"
The trouble with Mrs. Stelling was that she could
only speak a few words of English, but Mrs. Ward
said " she was a pleasant enough little body," and she
established herself quite definitely in Mrs. Ward's af-
fections for the reason that she was so obviously and
so passionately devoted to her two sons.
176 THEM OTHEES
" Ob, my word, though, they do have funny ways —
these foreigners," she continued. " The things they
used to eat! most peculiar! I've knovrai them eat
stewed prunes with hot meat ! "
Mrs. Ward repeated, " Stewed pnmes with hot
meat ! " several times, and shook her head, as though
this exotic mixture was a thing to be sternly discour-
aged. But she acknowledged that Mrs. Frow Stelling
was in some ways a very good cook, in fact, her cakes
were really wonderful, " the sort of thing you can't
even buy in a shop."
About the boys there seemed to be a little divergence
of opinion. They were both also fat-faced, and their
heads were " almost shaved like convicts." The elder
one wore spectacles and was rather noisy, but:
" My Ernie liked the younger one. Oh, yes, my
Ernie said that young Hans was quite a nice boy. It
was funny the way they spoke, funny and difficult to
It was very patent that between the elder boy and
Ernie, who were of about the same age, there was an
element of rivalry which was perhaps more accentuated
in the attitude of the mothers than in the boys them-
selves. Mrs. Ward could find little virtue in this elder
boy. Most of her criticism of the family w^as leveled
against him. The rest she found only a little peculiar.
She said she had never heard such a funny Christian
name as Frow. Florrie she had heard of, and even
Flora, but not Frow. I suggested that perhaps Frow
might be some sort of title, but she shook her head and
THEM OTHERS 177
said tliat that was what she was always known as in the
Sheldrake Road, " Mrs. Frow Stelling."
In spite of Mrs. Ward's lack of opportunity for
greater intimacy on account of the language problem,
her own fine imaginative qualities helped her a great
deal. And in one particular she seemed curiously
vivid. She gathered an account from one of them —
I'm not sure whether it was Mr. or Mrs. Frow Stelling
or one of the boys — of a place they described near
their home in Bremen. There was a narrow street of
high buildings by a canal, and a little bridge that led
over into a gentleman's park. At a point where the
canal turned sharply eastwards there was a clump of
linden-trees, where one could go in the summer-time,
and under their shade one might sit and drink light
beer, and listen to a band that played in the early part
of the evening.
Mrs. Ward was curiously clear about that. She said
she often thought about Mr. Stelling sitting there after
his day's work. It must have been very pleasant for
him, and he seemed to miss this luxury in Dalston
more than anything. Once Ernie, in a friendly mood,
had taken him into the four-ale bar of " The Unicom "
at the comer of the Sheldrake Road, but Mr. Stelling
did not seem happy. Ernie acknowledged afterwards
that it had been an unfortunate evening. The bar had
been rather crowded, and there was a man and two
women who had all been drinking too much. In any
case, Mr. Stelling had been obviously restless there, and
he had said afterwards :
178 THEM OTHEES
" It is not that one wishes to drink only . . ."
, And he had shaken his fat little head, and had never
been known to visit " The Unicorn " again.
Mr. Stelling died quite suddenly of some heart
trouble, and Mrs. Ward could not get it out of her
head that his last illness was brought about by his dis-
appointment and grief in not being able to go and sit
quietly under the linden-trees after his day's work and
listen to a band.
" You know, my dear," she said, " when you get ac-
customed to a thing, it's had for you to leave it off."
When poor Mr. Stelling died, Mrs. Frow Stelling
was heart-broken, and I have reason to believe that Mrs.
Ward went in and wept with her, and in their dumb
way they forged the chains of some desperate under-
standing. When Mrs. Erow Stelling went back to Ger-
many they promised to write to each other. But they
never did, and for a very good reason. As Mrs. Ward
said, she was " no scholard,"' and as for Mrs. Frow
Stelling, her English was such a doubtful quantity, she
probably never got beyond addressing the envelope.
" That was three years ago," said Mrs. Ward.
" Them boys must be eighteen and nineteen now."
If I have intruded too greatly into the intimacy of
Mrs. Ward's life, one of my excuses must be — not that
I am " a scholard " but that I am in any case able to
read a simple English letter. I was in fact on sev-
THEM OTHERS 179
eral occasions " requisitioned." When Lily was not at
home, sonic one had to read Ernie's letters out loud.
The arrival of Ernie's letters was always an inspiring
experience. I should perhaps be in the garden with
Mrs. Ward, when Tom would come hurrying out to
the back, and call out:
" Mother ! a letter from Ernie ! "
And then there would be such excitement and com-
motion. The first thing was always the hunt for Mrs.
Ward's spectacles. They were never where she had
put them. Tom would keep on turning the letter over
in his hands, and examining the postmark, and he would
" Well, what did you do with them, mother ? "
At length they would be found in some unlikely
place, and she would take the letter tremblingly to the
light. I never knew quite how much Mrs. Ward could
read. She could certainly read a certain amount. I
saw her old eyes sparkling and her tongue moving
jerkily between her parted lips, as though she were
formulating the words she read, and she would keep
"T'ch! T'ch! O dear, O dear, tlie things he
says ! "
And Tom impatiently by the door would say:
" Well, what does he say ? "
She never attempted to read the letter out loud, but
at last she would wipe her spectacles and say:
" Oh, you read it, sir. The tilings he says ! "
They were indeed very good letters of Ernie's, writ-
180 THEM OTHERS
ten apparently in the highest spirits. There was never
a gnimble, not a word. One might gather that he was
away with a lot of young bloods on some sporting ex-
pedition, in which football, rags, sing-songs, and strange
feeds played a conspicuous part. I read a good many
of Ernie's letters, and I do not remember that he ever
made a single reference to the horrors of war, or said
anything about his own personal discomforts. The boy
must have had something of his mother in him in spite
of the photograph.
And between the kitchen and the yard Mrs. "Ward
would spend her day placidly content, for Ernie never
failed to write. There was sometimes a lapse of a few
days, but the letter seldom failed to come every fort-
It would be difficult to know what Mrs. Ward's ac-
tual conception of the war was. She never read the
newspapers, for the reason, as she explained, that
" there was nothing in them these days except about this
old war." She occasionally dived into Reynold's news-
paper on Sundays to see if there were any interesting
law cases or any news of a romantic character. There
was nothing romantic in the war news. It was all
preposterous. She did indeed read the papers for the
first few weeks, but this was for the reason that she
had some vague idea that they might contain some ac-
count of Ernie's doings. But as they did not, she dis-
missed them with contempt.
But I found her one night in a peculiarly preoc-
cupied mood. She was out in the garden, and she kept
THEM OTHERS 181
staring abstractedly over the fence into the unoccu-
pied ground next door. It appeared that it had dawned
upon her that the war was to do with " these Germans,"
that in fact we were fighting the Germans, and then she
thought of the Stellings. Those boys would now be
about eighteen and nineteen. They would be fighting
too. They would be fighting against Ernie. This
seemed very peculiar.
" Of course," she said, " I never took to that elder
boy — a greedy rough sort of boy he was. But I'm
sure my Ernie wouldn't hurt young Hans."
She meditated for a moment as though she were con-
templating what particular action Ernie would take in
the matter. She knew he didn't like the elder boy but
she doubted whether he would want to do anything very
violent to him.
" They went out to a music-hall one night together,"
she explained, as though a friendship cemented in this
luxurious fashion could hardly bo broken by an unrea-
sonable display of passion.
It was a few weeks later that the terror suddenly
crept into Mrs. Ward's life. Ernie's letters ceased
abniptly. The fortnight passed, then three weeks, four
weeks, five weeks, and not a word. I don't think that
Mrs. Ward's character at any time stood out so vividly
as during those weeks of stress.. It is true she appeared
a little feebler, and she trembled in her movements,
182 THEM OTHEES
whilst her eyes seemed abstracted as though all the
power in them were concentrated in her ears, alert for
the bell or the knock. She started visibly at odd mo-
ments, and her imagination was always carrying her
tempestuously to the front door only to answer — a
milkman or a casual hawker. But she never expressed
her fear in words. When Tom came home — he
seemed to have aged rapidly — he would come bustling
out into the garden, and cry tremblingly :
" There ain't been no letter to-day, mother ? "
And she would say quite placidly :
" ]^o, not to-day, Tom. It'll come to-morrow, I ex-
And she would rally him and talk of little things,
and get busy with his supper. And in the garden I
would try and talk to her about her clump of pansies,
and the latest yarn about the neighbors, and I tried
to get between her and the rabbit-hutch with its dumb
appeal of incompletion. And I would notice her star-
ing curiously over into the empty garden next door, as
though she were being assailed by some disturbing ap-
prehensions. Ernie would not hurt that eldest boy
. . . but suppose ... if things were reversed . . .
there was something inexplicable and terrible lurking
in this passive silence.
During this period the old man was suddenly taken
very ill. He came homo one night with a high tem-
perature and developed pneumonia. He was laid up
for many weeks, and she kept back the telegram that
came while he was almost unconscious, and she tended
THEM OTHEES 183
him niglit and day, nursing her own anguish with a
For the telegram told her that her Ernie was " miss-
ing, believed wounded."
I do not know at what period she told the father this
news, but it was certainly not till he was convalescent.
And the old man seemed to sink into a kind of apathy.
He sat feebly in front of the kitchen fire, coughing and
making no effort to control his grief.
Outside the great trains went rushing by, night and
day. Things were " going on," but they were all mean-
We made enquiries at the War Office, but they could
not amplify the laconic telegTam.
And then the winter came on, and the gardens were
bleak in the Sheldrake Road. And Lily ran away and
married a young tobacconist, who was earning twenty-
five shillings a week. And old Tom was dismissed
from the gas-works. His work was not proving satis-
factory. And he sat about at home and moped. And
in the meantime the price of foodstuffs was going up,
and coals were a luxury. And so in the early morning
Mrs. Ward would go off and work for Mrs. Abbot at
the wash-tub, and she would earn eight or twelve shill-
ings a week.
It is difficult to know how they managed during those
days, but one could see that Mrs. Ward was buoyed up
by some poignant hope. She would not give way.
Eventually old Tom did get some work to do at a sta-
tioner's. The work was comparatively light, and the
184 THEM OTHEES
pay equally so, so Mrs. Wai'd still continued to work
for Mrs. Abbot.
My next vision of Mrs. Ward concerns a certain win-
ter evening. I could not see inside the kitchen, but the
old man could be heard complaining. His querulous
voice was rambling on, and Mrs. Ward was standing
by the door leading into the garden. She had returned
from her day's work and was scraping a pan out into a
bin near the door. A train shrieked by, and the wind
was blowing a fine rain against the house. Suddenly
she stood up and looked up at the sky ; then she pushed
back her hair from her brow, and frowned at the dark
house next door. Then she turned and said :
" Oh, I don't know, Tom, if we've got to do it, we
must do it. If them others can stand it, we can stand
it. Whatever them others can do, we can do."
And then my visions jump rather wildly. And the
war becomes to me epitomized in two women. One in
this dim doorway in our obscure suburb of Dalston,
scraping out a pan, and the other perhaps in some dark
high house near a canal on the outskirts of Bremen.
Them others! These two women silently enduring.
And the trains rushing by, and all the dark, mysterious
forces of the night operating on them equivocally.
Poor Mrs. Erow Stelling! Perhaps those boys of
hers are " missing, believed killed." Perhaps they are
killed for certain.! She is as much outside " the things
going on " as Mrs. Ward. Perhaps she is equally as
patient, as brave.
THEM OTHERS 185
And Mrs. Ward enters the kitchen, and her eyes are
blazing with a strange light as she says:
" We'll hear to-morrow, Tom. And if we don't hear
to-morrow, we'll hear the next day. And if we don't
hear the next day, we'll hear the day after. And if we
don't ... if we don't never hear . . . again ... if
them others can stand it, we can stand it, I say."
And then her voice breaks, and she cries a little, for
endurance has its limitations, and — the work is hard
at Mrs. Abbot's.
And the months go by, and she stoops a little more as
she walks, and — some one has thrown a cloth over the
rabbit-hutch with its unfinished roof. And Mrs. Ward
is curiously retrospective. It is useless to tell her of
the things of the active world. She listens politely but
she does not hear. She is full of reminiscences of
Ernie's and Lily's childhood. She recounts again and
again the story of how Ernie when he was a little boy
ordered five tons of coal from a coal merchant to be sent
to a girls' school in Dalston High Road. She describes
the coal carts arriving in the morning, and the conster-
nation of the head-mistress.
" O dear, O dear," she says ; " the things he did ! "
She does not talk much of the Stellings, but one day
she says meditatively :
" Mrs. Frow Stelling thought a lot of that boy Hans.
So she did of the other, as far as that goes. It's only
natural like, I suppose."
186 THEM OTHEES
As time went on Tom Ward lost all hope. He said
lie was convinced that the boy was killed. Having ar-
rived at this conclusion he seemed to become more com-
posed. He gradually began to accustom himself to the
new point of view. But with Mrs. Ward the exact op-
posite was the case.
She was convinced that the boy was alive, but she
There came a time — it was in early April — when
one felt that the strain could not last. She seemed to
lose all interest in the passing world and lived entirely
within herself. Even the arrival of Lily's baby did
not rouse her. She looked at the child queerly, as
though she doubted whether any useful or happy pur-
pose was served by its appearance.
It was a boy.
In spite of her averred optimism she lost her tremu-
lous sense of apprehension when the bell went or the
front door was tapped. She let the milkman — and
even the postmaa — wait.
When she spoke it was invariably of things that hap-
pened years ago.
Sometimes she talked about the Stellings, and on
one Sunday she made a strange pilgrimage out to
Einchley and visited Mr. Stelling's grave. I don't
know what she did there, but she returned looking very
exhausted and unwell. As a matter of fact, she was
THEM OTHERS 187
unwell for some days after this visit, and she suffered
violent twinges of rheumatism in her legs.
I now come to my most unforgetable vision of Mrs.
It was a day at the end of April, and warm for the
time of year. I was standing in the garden with her
and it was nearly dark. A goods train had been shunt-
ing, and making a gi-eat deal of noise in front of the
house, and at last had disappeared. I had not been
able to help noticing that Mrs. Ward's garden was
curiously neglected for her for the time of year. The
grass was growing on the paths, and the snails had left
their silver trail over all the fences.
I was telling her a rumor I had heard about the
railway porter and his wife at number twenty-three,
and she seemed fairly interested, for she had known
John Hemsley, the porter, fifteen years ago when
Ernie was a baby. There were two old broken Wind-
sor chairs out in the garden, and on one was a zinc
basin in which were some potatoes. She was peeling
them, as Lily and her husband were coming to supper.
By the kitchen door was a small sink. When she had
finished the potatoes, she stood up and began to pour
the water down the sink, taking care not to let the skins
go too. I was noticing her old bent back, and her long
bony hands gripping the sides of the basin, when sud-
denly a figure came limping round the bend of the
house from the side passage, and two arms were thrown
round her waist, and a voice said :
188 THEM OTHEES
" Mind them skins don't go down the sink, mother.
They'll stop it up ! "
As I explained to Ernie afterwards, it was an ex-
tremely foolish thing to do. If his mother had had
anything wrong with her heart, it might have been very
serious. There have been many cases of people dying
from the shock of such an experience.
As it was, she merely dropped the basin and stood
there trembling like a leaf, and Ernie laughed loud and
uproariously. It must have been three or four min-
utes before she could regain her speech, and then all
she could manage to say was:
"Ernie! ... My Ernie!"
And the boy laughed, and ragged his mother, and
pulled her into the house, and Tom appeared and stared
at his son, and said feebly:
"Well, I never!"
I don't know how it was that I found myself intrud-
ing upon the sanctity of the inner life of the Ward
family that evening. I had never had a meal there
before, but I felt that I was holding a sort of watching
brief over the soul and body of Mrs. Ward. I had a
little medical training in my early youth, and this may
have been one of the reasons which prompted me to
When Lily and her husband appeared we sat down
to a meal of mashed potatoes and onions stewed in milk,
with bread and cheese, and very excellent it was.
THEM OTHERS 189
Lily and her liusband took the whole thing in a bois-
terous, hjoh comedy manner that fitted in with the
mood of Eniie. Old Tom sat there staring at his son,
and repeating at intervals:
" Well, I never ! "
And Mrs. Ward hovered round the boy's plate. Her
eyes divided their time between his plate and his face,
and she hardly spoke all the evening.
Ernie's story was remarkable enough. He told it
disconnectedly and rather incoherently. There were
moments when he rambled in a rather peculiar way,
and sometimes he stammered, and seemed unable to
frame a sentence. Lily's husband went out to fetch
some beer to celebrate the joyful occasion, and Ernie
drank his in little sips, and spluttered. The boy must
have suffered considerably, and he had a wound in the
abdomen, and another in the right forearm which for
a time had paralyzed him.
As far as I could gather, his story was this:
He and a platoon of men had been ambushed and
had had to surrender. When being sent back to a base,
three of them tried to escape from the train, which had
been held up at night. He did not know what had
happened to the other two men, but it was on this oc-
casion that he received his abdominal wound at th**
hands of a guard.
He had then been sent to some infirmary where he
was fairly well treated, but as soon as his wound had
healed a little, he had been suddenly sent to some for-
tress prison, presumably as a punishment. He hadn't
190 THEM OTHEES
the faintest idea how long he had been confined there.
He said it seemed like fifteen years. It was probably
nine months. He had solitary confinement in a cell,
which was like a small lavatory. He had fifteen min-
utes' exercise every day in a yard Avith some other pris-
oners, who were Eussians he thought. He spoke to
no one. He used to sing and recite in his cell, and
there were times when he was quite convinced that he
was " off his chump." He said he had lost " all sense
of everything " when he was suddenly transferred to
another prison. Here the conditions were somewhat
better and he was made to work. He said he wrote six
or seven letters home from there, but received no reply.
The letters certainly never reached Dalston. The
food was execrable, but a big improvement on the dun-
geon. He was only there a few weeks when he and
some thirty other prisoners were sent suddenly to work
on the land at a kind of settlement. He said that the
life there would have been tolerable if it hadn't been
for the fact that the Commandant was an absolute brute.
The food was worse than in the prison, and they were
punished severely for the most trivial offenses.
It was here, however, that he met a sailor named
Martin, a Eoyal ISTaval reservist, an elderly thickset
man with a black beard and only one eye. Ernie said
that this Martin " was an artist. He wangled every-
thing. He had a genius for getting what he wanted.
He would get a beef-steak out of stone." In fact, it
was obvious that the whole of Ernie's nan*ative was
colored by his vision of Martin. He said he'd never
TIIEM OTHERS 191
met such a cliap in his life. He admired him enor-
mously, and he was also a little afraid of him.
By some miraculous means peculiar to sailors, Mar-
tin acquired a compass. Ernie hardly knew what a
compass was, but tlie sailor explained to him that it
was all that was necessary to take you straight to Eng-
land. Ernie said he " had had enough escaping. It
didn't agree with his health," but so strong was his
faith and belief in Martin that he ultimately agreed to
try with him.
He said Martin's method of escape was the coolest
thing he'd ever seen. He plamied it all beforehand.
It was the fag-end of the day, and the whistle had gone
and the prisoners were trooping back across a potato-
field. Martin and Ernie were very slow. They lin-
gered apparently to discuss some matter connected with
the soil. There were two sentries in sight, one near
them and the other perhaps a hundred yards away.
The potato field was on a slope and at the bottom of the
field were two lines of barbed wire entanglements.
The other prisoners passed out of sight, and the sen-
try near them called out something, probably telling
them to hurry up. They started to go up the field
when suddenly Mai-tin staggered and clutched his
throat. Then he fell over baclcwards and commenced
to have an epileptic fit. Ernie said it was the real-
est thing he'd ever seen. The sentry ran up, at the
same time whistling to his comrade. Ernie released
Martin's collar-band and tried to help him. Both the
sentries approached, and Ernie stood back. He saw
192 THEM OTHERS
them bending over the prostrate man, when suddenly a
most extraordinary thing happened. Both their heads
were brought together with fearful violence. One fell
completely senseless, but the other staggered forward
and groped for his rifle.
When Ernie told this part of the story he kept dab-
bing his forehead with his handkerchief.
" I never seen such a man as Martin I don't think,"
he said. " Lord ! He had a fist like a leg of mutton.
He laid 'em out neatly on the grass, took off their coats
and most of their other clothes, and flung 'em over the
barbed wire and then swarmed over like a cat. I had
more difiiculty, but he got me across too, somehow.
Then we carted the clothes away to the next line.
" We got up into a wood that night, and Martin
draws out his compass and he says : ' We've got a hun-
dred and seven miles to do in night shifts, cully. And
if we make a slip we're shot as safe as knife.' It
sounded the maddest scheme in the world, but I some-
how felt that Martin would get through it. The only
thing that saved me was that — that I didn't have to
think. I simply left everything to him. If I'd started
thinking I could have gone mad. I had it fixed in my
mind, ' either he does it or he doesn't do it. I can't
help it.' I reely don't remember much about that
journey. It was all a dream like. We did all our
travelin' at night by compass, and hid by day. Neither
of us had a word of German. But Gawd's truth ! that
man Martin was a marvel ! He turned our trousers in-
side out, and made 'em look like ordinary laborers'
THEM OTHERS 193
trousers. He disappeared the first niglit and came
back with some other old clothes. We lived mostly on
raw potatoes we dug out of the ground with our hands,
but not always. One night he came back with a fowl
which he cooked in a hole in the earth, making a fire
with a flint and some dry stuff he pinched from a farm.
I believed Martin could have stole an egg from under
a hen without her noticing it. He was the coolest
card there ever was. Of course there was a lot of
trouble one way and another. It wasn't always easy
to find wooded country or protection of any sort. We
often ran into people and they stared at us, and we
shifted our course. But I think we were only ad-
dressed three or four times by men, and then Martin's
methods were the simplest in the world. He just
looked sort of blank for a moment, and then knocked
them clean out, and bolted. Of course they were after
us all the time, and it was this constant tacking and
shifting ground that took so long. Fancy! he never
had a map, you know, nothing but the compass. We
didn't know what sort of country we were coming to,
nothing. We just crept through the night like cats.
I believe Martin could see in the dark He killed
a dog one night with his hands. ... It was neces-
It was impossible to discover from Emie how long
this amazing journey lasted — the best part of two
months I believe. He was himself a little uncertain
194: THEM OTHEES
with regard to many incidents, whether thej were true
or whether thej were hallucinations. He suffered
greatly from his wound and had periods of feverish-
ness. But one morning, he said, Martin began
" prancing." He seemed to develop some curious sense
that they were near the Dutch frontier. And then,
according to Ernie, " a cat wasn't in it with Martin."
He was very mysterious about the actual crossing.
I gathered that there had been some " clumsy " work
with sentries. It was at that time that Ernie got a
bullet through his arm. When he got to Holland he
was very ill. It was not that the wound was a very
serious one, but, as he explained:
" Me blood was in a bad state. I was nearly down
He was very kindly treated by some Dutch Sisters
in a convent hospital. But he was delirious for a long
time, and when he became more normal they wanted
to communicate with his people in England, but this
didn't appeal to the dramatic sense of Ernie.
" I thought I'd spring a surprise packet on you,''
he said, grinning.
We asked about Martin, but Ernie said he never saw
him again. He went away while Ernie was delirious,
and they said he had gone to Eotterdam to take ship
somewhere. He thought Holland was a dull place.
During the relation of this narrative my attention
was divided between watching the face of Ernie and the
face of Ernie's mother.
I am quite convinced that she did not listen to the
THEM OTHERS 195
story at all. She never took her eyes from his face,
and although her tongue was following the flow of his
remarks, her mind was occupied with the vision of
Ernie when he was a little boy, and when he ordered
five tons of coal to be sent to the girls' school.
When he had finished she said :
"Did you meet either of them young Stellings?"
And Ernie laughed rather uproariously and said no,
he didn't have the pleasure of renewing their acquaint-
On his way home, it appeared, he had reported him-
self at headquarters, and his discharge was inevitable.
" So now you'll be able to finish the rabbit-hutch,"
said Lily's husband, and we all laughed again, with
the exception of Mrs. Ward.
I found her later standing alone in the garden. It
was a warm Spring night. There was no moon, but the
sky appeared restless with its burden of trembling stars.
She had an old shawl drawn round her shoulders, and
she stood there very silently, with her arms crossed.
" Well, this is splendid news, Mrs. Ward," I said.
She started a little, and coughed, and pulled the
shawl closer round her.
She said, " Yes, sir," very faintly.
I don't think she was very conscious of me. She
still appeared immersed in the contemplation of her
inner visions. Her eyes settled upon the empty house
next door, and I thought I detected the trail of a tear
glistening on her checks. I lighted my pipe. We
196 THEM OTHEES
could hear Ernie, and Lily, and Lily's husband still
laughing and talking inside.
" She used to make a very good puddin','' Mrs. Ward
said suddenly, at random. " Dried fruit inside, and
that. My Ernie liked it very much . . ."
Somewhere away in the distance — probably out-
side " The Unicorn " — some one was playing a comet.
A train crashed by and disappeared, leaving a trail of
foul smoke which obscured the sky. The smoke cleared
slowly away. I struck another match to light my pipe.
It was quite true. On either side of her cheek a
tear had trickled. She was trembling a little, worn
out by the emotions of the evening.
There was a moment of silence, unusual for Dalston.
" It's all very . . . perplexin' and that," she said
And then I knew for certain that in that great hour
of her happiness her mind was assailed by strange and
tremulous doubts. She was thinking of " them others "
a little wistfully. She was doubting whether one could
rejoice — when the thing became clear and actual to
one — without sending out one's thoughts into the dark
garden to " them others " who were suifering too. And
she had come out into this little meager yard at Dalston
and had gazed through the mist and smoke upwards to
the stars, because she wanted peace intensely, and so she
sought it within herself, because she knew that real
peace is a thing which concerns the heart alone.
And so I left her standing there, and I went my way,
for I knew that she was wiser than I.
THE BENT TREE
THE BENT TREE
THE call was irresistible. I had tramped for
nearly two hours along the white road, when
suddenly a long stretch of open heath with
sparsely-scattered trees and high gorse bushes invited
me to break my journey and to seek the shade of a
wood that fringed it on the western side. The ground
sloped upwards at a steep gradient and I was soon
among the cool shadows of the larch trees. After
climbing for nearly half-an-hour I found myself on a
kind of plateau, looking down upon one of the most
beautiful sights in the world, the Weald of Sussex
trembling in a gray heat mist framed through a thin
belt of trees. I pushed forward, determining to rest
in this most attractive spot. iSTearing the fringe of this
little clump, I observed a bent tree in a clearing. As
I approached it it occurred to me that the subject be-
fore me was curiously like Corot's famous masterpiece.
It was indeed a wonderful and romantic spot. Beneath
me a river rambled through the meadows and became
lost in the gray-line distances. There was no sign of
civilization except sleepy cattle and the well-kept fields,
and occasionally a village nestling in the hollow of the
downs. The only sound was the movement of leaves,
the drone of bees and the lowing of cattle in the distant
200 THE BE:N'T TREE
I sat down on the bent tree, and as I looked around
it occurred to me that the spot I had chosen was like a
little arbor. It might have been the home of some
God of ancient Britain, who could have lived here
undisturbed through all the generations. I was won-
dering whether any one else had ever penetrated to this
glorious retreat from the world when my eye caught a
small square of white paper pinned on the trunk of the
bent tree, I examined it, and lo ! on it was wi'itten in
ink : " Gone to lunch. Back in 20 Minutes."
]^ow if there is one thing that makes me wretchedly
unhappy it is the action of people who find pleasure in
disfiguring nature, in carving their initials on tree-
trunks, in scattering paper and orange-peel about the
country-side ; but somehow, when I caught sight of this
absurd city ofiice formula pinned to a tree in this most
inaccessible and romantic spot, I must confess that
" my lungs did crow like Chanticleer." I felt that here
indeed was the work of a vast and subtle humorist.
The formula was so familiar. How often had I waited
hours in murky passages, buoyed up by this engaging
promise ! It seemed so redolent of drab staircases, and
files and roll-top desks, that its very mention out here
struck a fantastic note. That any one should suggest
that he carried on a business here, that his time was
precious, that after gulping down a cup of coffee, he
would rush back, cope with increasing press of affairs,
seemed to me wonderfully and amazingly funny. I
must acknowledge that I made myself rather ridiculous.
I laughed till the tears streamed down my face, and my
THE BENT TREE 201
only desire was for a companion with whom to share
the manna of this gigantic jest. I looked at the card
again. It was comparatively clean, so I presumed that
the joke had been perpetrated quite recently.
And then I began to wonder whether the jester would
return, whether, after all, the slip had any significance.
Was it the message of a poacher to a friend ? Or was
this the secret meeting place of some gods of High
Finance? I determined in any case to wait the al-
lotted span, and in the meantime I stretched myself on
the stem of the bent tree, and, lighting a cigarette, pre-
pared to enjoy the tranquillity of the scene.
It was barely ten minutes before my siesta was dis-
turbed by a man coming stealthily up the slope. He
was a medium-sized, sallow-faced fellow with small tired
eyes set in dark hollows. He was wearing a tail-coat
and a bowler hat. He shuffled quickly through the
wood, pushing the branches of the trees away from him.
His eyes fixed me furtively, and as he entered the little
arbor, he took off his hat and fidgeted with it, as though
looking for a customary hook on which to hang it.
" I hope I haven't kept you waiting ? " was his greet-
" Not at all," I found myself answering, for lack of
a more suitable reply.
" Did Binders send you ? " he asked tentatively.
" No," I replied, pulling myself together. " I just
happened to come here."
A look of disappointment passed over his face.
" Oh ! " he said, walking up and down. " I some-
202 THE BENT TREE
times do a bit with Binders and his friends, you know "
— he waved his arms va^ely — " you know, from Cor-
Corlesham I knew to be a village rather more than
two miles away, a sleepy hamlet of less than fifty souls.
" Oh, I see," I replied, more with the idea of not dis-
couraging him than because any particular light had
come to me.
He looked at me searchingly for some moments, and
then, going over to a thick gorse-bush, he knelt down
and grouped underneath and presently produced a
thick pile of papers and circulars.
" I wonder whether you would like to do anything in
these? These West Australians are good. They're
right down to 65. If you can hold on, a sure thing.
If you would like a couple of thousand now . . ." he
was nervously biting his nails ; then he said, " Could
you spare me a cigarette ? "
I produced my case and handed him one.
" Thanks very much," he said. " They don't like me
to smoke at home," and he waved his hand towards the
north. I followed the direction, and just caught sight
of the top of a gable of a large red-brick building
through the trees.
So this was the solution !
" This is a glorious place," I said.
This seemed a very harmless platitude and one not
likely to drive a being to despair. But it had a strange
effect on my individual, for he sat down on a broken
branch and burst into a paroxysm of invective.
THE BENT TREE 203
" Oh, Gawd ! " he said. " I hate it, hate the sight of
it ! Day after day — all the same ! All these blinkin'
trees and fields — all the same, nothing happenin'
I found it very difficult to meet this outburst. I
could think of nothing to say, so I kept silent. After
a time he got up, puffing feverishly at the cigarette, and
walked round the little arbor. Every now and then he
would stop and make a gesture towards the shiiibs. I
believe he was visualizing files and folios, ledgers, and
typewriters. He made a movement of opening and
" You've been a bit run down, haven't you ? " I
said at last, with a feeble attempt to bridge the gulf.
He looked at me uncertainly, and wiped the perspi-
ration from his brow.
" I was unlucky," he said sullenly. " I worked like
a nigger for thirty years, but so do the others — lots of
them — and they're all right. Just sheer bad luck, if
you know what I mean. I can do it now when they let
me. That's why I come here. Binders helps me a bit.
He sends me people. And, do you know ? " he whis-
pered to me confidentially, " I've got the postman on
my side. He delivers me letters here at twopence a
time. Look ! here is my mail-box ! " He stooped dovsai
and lifted a large stone and produced a further pile of
correspondence and circulars. " Would you like to buy
some of these Trinidads? I could work it for you."
He looked at me anxiously, and I made some elabor-
ate excuse for not seizing such a splendid opportunity.
204 THE BENT TEEE
He sighed, and placed the papers back under the stone.
" Have you ever dealt in big things ? " he asked.
" I'm afraid not — in your sense," I answered, nur-
turing an instinctive sense of outraged superiority
against this person who I felt despised me.
" You know what I mean by big things," he said
fiercely. " Millions and millions, and the lives and
works of millions of people ! Do you know why I
come down here to this rotten little clearing ? Because
it sometimes reminds me of my office off Throgmorton
Street. Look ! It was just this size. I had my desk
over there. Horswall, my secretary, had his desk here.
Here was the fireplace. The press just here by the
window. Here the shelves with all the files. Can you
imagine what it's like to have been there all those years,
to have worked up what I did — all out of nothing,
mark you ! — to have got the whole rubber market in
the hollow of my hand ! — and then, oh, God ! to be
condemned to — this ! " and he made a gesture of fierce
contempt towards the Weald of Sussex.
" For nearly two years now," he continued, " I've
been living in this hole."
" Nature has a way," I said, in my most sententious
manner, " of coming back on us."
"Nayoher! Naycher!" he almost screamed.
" Don't talk to me about Naycher ! What sort of
friend is Naycher to me or you? Naycher gives you
inclinations, and then breaks you for following them !
Two men fall into a pond — what does Naycher care
that one man was trying to drown his enemy while
THE BENT TREE 205
the other was trying to save a dog? They both stand
their cliance of deatli. Najcher leads you up blind
alleys and into marshes and lets you rot. Besides, isn't
man Naycher? Isn't it Naycher for me to work and
make money, as it is for these blighting birds to sing?
Aren't roll-top desks as much Naycher as — these
blasted trees ? "
He blinked savagely at the surrounding scene. The
smoke from a distant hamlet drifted sleepily heaven-
wards, like incense to the gods of the Downs.
" My father was a turner in Walham Green, and he
apprenticed me to the joinery, but I had my ambitions
even in those times." He nodded knowingly, and
mopped his brow. " At eighteen I was a clerk in a
wholesale house in St. Paul's Churchyard. Eor three
years I worked there underground, by artificial light.
Then I got made sub-manager of a wharf at the South
end of Lower Thames Street. I was there for five
years, and saved nearly three hundred pounds out of a
salary of £120 a year. Then I met Jettison, and we
started that oifice together, Jettison & Gateshead, Com-
mission Agents. Work and struggle, work and stnig-
gle, year after year. But it was not till I got on to
rubber that I began to make things move. That was
eight years after. Do you remember the boom ? I got
in with Gayo, who had lived out in the Malay Straits —
Knew everything — we got the whole game at our fin-
gers' ends. We knew just when to buy and just when
to sell. Do you know, I've made as much as four
thousand pounds in one afternoon, just talking on the
206 THE BEI^T TREE
telephone ! And we done it all in that little room " —
he gazed jealously round the little arbor in the hills,
and scowled at me. Then he produced a packet of
cigarettes and lighted one from the stump of the last.
" In those days, through Gayo's friends, we followed
the whole course of the raw stuff. Then Gayo went out
to Malay, and he used to cable me every few days, put-
ting me on to the right thing. My God, he was a man !
It went on for two years, when suddenly a cable came
to say he was dead — fever, or something, up-country.
That was the end. The slump came soon after. I
worked hard, but I never got control back. Down and
down and down they went, as though Gayo was drag-
ging them through the earth." His lower lip trembled
as he rolled the emaciated cigarette over.
" Lord, what a fight I had, though I sat in that office
there, in my shirt-sleeves, day and night for months on
end, checking tapes, cabling, lying, faking, bluffing "
— he chuckled with a meditative intensity. " I'd have
done it then, if they'd given me time. But they closed
in; there were two Scotch firms, and a man named
Klaus. I knew they meant to do me down. There
was a set against me. I wasn't there in the end. I was
sitting in the office one night. . . ." He passed his
hand over his brow and swept away a wasp that had
settled there. He sat silent for some moments, as
though trying to recall things, and twice started to
speak without framing a sentence.
" My brother was very good to me," he said sud-
THE BENT TREE 207
denly, waving his hand toward the red-brick gable in
the trees. " He was very good to mo all through."
Then he added, with a sort of contemptuous shrug,
" In the cabinet-making he was ; got a little works at
Bow — made about four hundred a year — married,
and five children."
He sat for some minutes with his head in his hands,
and then he sat up and gazed upon the joyous landscape
with unseeing eyes.
I ventured to remark, " Well, I'm sure this place
ought to do you good." He turned his melancholy eyes
upon me, and sighed.
" Yes," he said, after a pause. " You're just the
sort. I've seen so many of you about. Some of you
have butterfly nets." He kept repeating at intervals,
" Butterfly-nets ! " One felt that the last word in con-
tumely had been uttered. He sank into an apathy of
indifference. Then he broke out again.
" I tell you," he uttered fiercely, " that I had millions
and millions. I controlled the work and the lives of
millions of men, and you come here and talk to me
of Naycher. Look at these damned trees! They go
green in the summer, yellow in the autumn, and bare
in the winter. Year after year, exactly the same thing,
and that's all there is to it. I'm sick of the sight of
them. But look at men! Think of their lives, the
change and variety ! What they can do ! Their clothes,
their furniture, their houses, their cities! Think of
their power ! The power of making and marring ! "
208 THE BENT TEEE
" You mean the power of buying and selling," I
" Yes, that's just it ! " he said, feeling that he was
" The power of buying and selling ! Of making men
rich or poor ! " He stood up and waved his thin arms
and gazed wildly round him. " !N'ot chasing butter-
At that moment we both became aware that a third
person was on the scene. He was a well set-up man,
with broad shoulders and narrow hips. He was dressed
in a dark-blue serge suit and a tweed cap. He stepped
quietly through the trees, and went up to my compan-
ion, and said:
" Ah ! there you are, Mr. Gateshead. I'm afraid it's
almost time for your afternoon nap, sir." And then,
turning to me, he nodded and remarked : " A warm
afternoon, sir ! " He spoke with a quiet, suave voice
that somehow conveyed the feeling of the " iron hand
in the velvet glove." His voice seemed to have a sed-
ative effect on Mr. Gateshead. My companion did not
look at him, but he seemed to shrink within himself.
A certain flush that had accompanied his excitement
vanished, and his face looked old and set. He drew
his narrow shoulders together and his flgure bent. He
stood abstractedly for a few moments, gazing at the
trees around him, and then, with a vague gesture that
was characteristic of him, he clutched the lapels of his
coat, and with his head bent forward he walked away
towards the building. He did not cast a glance in my
THE BENT TREE 209
direction, and the man in the serge suit nodded to me
and followed him leisurely.
I clambered down the slope of the wood, and for
some reason felt happy to get once more upon the
About half a mile from Corlesham I met the post-
man coming up the hill, wheeling his bicycle. He was
a sandy-haired man, splendidly Saxon, with gray-blue
eyes and broad mouth. I asked him if there was a foot-
path to Corlesham, and he directed me.
" Do you have a long round ? '' I asked.
" Three or four mile, maybe," he said, looking at me
" It's a good pull up to the Institution," I ventured.
" What institution might that be ? " he said, and his
mild blue eyes disarmed me with their ingenuous-
" The house with the three red gables," I answered.
" Oh ! " came the reply. " You mean old Gates-
" Does he own it ? " I said incredulously.
" Ay, and he could own six others for all the dif-
ference it would make to his money. He owns half the
" And yet what a strange idea," I murmured in-
sinuatingly. " To own a large house and yet to have
one's letters delivered in a wood! "
The postman swung his bag into a more comfortable
position and looked across his machine at me with a
210 THE BENT TREE
" Those as has money can afford to have any ideas
they like," he said at last.
" I'm afraid his money doesn't make him very
happy," I ventured, still groping for further enlighten-
The postman gave his right pedal a vigorous twirl as
a hint of departure. He then took out a packet of
Navy Cuty cigarettes and lighted one. This action
seemed to stimulate his mental activities, and he leant
on the handle-bars and said :
" Ay, if one has no money maybe one can make one-
self happy thinking one has. And if one has money,
may be one can make oneself happy by thinking one
hasn't." He blinked at me, and then added, by way of
solving all life's mysteries : " If one — puts too much
store by these things."
I could find no remark to complement the postman's
sententious conclusions, and, dismissing me with a nod,
he mounted his bicycle and rode off up the hill.
THE GREAT UNIMPRESSIONABLE
THE GREAT UNIMPRESSIONABLE
NED Picklekin was a stolid chunk of a young
man, fair, blue-eyed, with his skin beaten to
a uniform tint of warm red by the sun and
wind. For he was the postman at the village of Ashal-
ton. Except for two hours in the little sorting-office,
he spent the whole day on his bicycle, invariably accom-
panied by his Irish terrier, Toffee. Toffee was as well
known on the countryside as Ned himself. He took
the business of delivering letters as seriously as his
master. He trotted behind the bicycle with his tongue
out, and wai*,ed panting outside the gates of gardens
while the important government business was trans-
acted. He never barked, and had no time for fighting
common, unofficial dogs. When the letters were de-
livered, his master would return to his bicycle, and
say : " Coom ahn, boy ! " and Toffee would immedi-
ately jump up, and fall into line. They were great
Ned lived with his mother, and also he walked out
with a young lady. Her name was Ettie Skinner, and
she was one of the three daughters of old Charlie Skin-
ner, the corn-merchant. Charlie Skinner had a little
establishment in the station-yard. He was a widower,
and he and his three daughters lived in a cottage in
Neap's Lane. It was very seldom necessary to deliver
214 THE GEEAT UNIMPEESSIONABLE
letters at the Skinners' cottage, but every morning N^ed
had to pass up Neap's Lane, and so, when he arrived
at the cottage, he dismounted, and rang his bicycle bell.
The signal was understood by Ettie, who immediately
ran out to the gate, and a conversation somewhat on this
pattern usually took place:
" Ay. Mendin' some old cla'es."
Oo-ay ! "
Looks like mebbe a shower."
Coomin' along to-night ? "
" Ay, if it doan't rain."
"Well, so long!"
" So long, :N'ed."
In the evenings the conversation followed a very
similar course. They waddled along the lanes side by
side, and occasionally gave each other a punch. N^ed
smoked his pipe all the time, and Toffee was an unem-
barrassed cicerone. He was a little jealous of this un-
necessary female, but he behaved with a resigned ac-
quiescence. His master could do no wrong. His
master was a god, a being apart from all others.
It cannot be said that Ned was a romantic lover. He
was solemn, direct, imperturbable. He was a Saxon
of Saxons, matter-of-fact, incorruptible, unimaginative,
THE GREAT UNIMPRESSIONABLE 215
strong-willed, conscientious, not very ambitious, and
suspicious of the unusual and the unknown. ^Vhen
the war broke out, he said :
" Ay, but this is a bad business ! "
And tlion he thought about it for a month. At
the end of that time he made up his mind to join.
He rode up Neap's Lane one morning and rang his bell.
When Ettie appeared the usual conversation underwent
a slight variant :
" Doin' much ? "
" Oo — mendin' pa's night-gown."
" Oh! I be goin' to jine up."
"Oo — oh! Be'ee?"
" When be goin' ? "
" Monday with Dick Thursby and Len Cotton. An'
I think young Walters, and Bibbie Short mebbe."
"Oh, I say!"
" Ay. Comin' along to-night ? "
" Av, if it doan't rain."
" Well, see you then."
" So long, Ned."
On the following Monday Ned said good-by to his
mother, and sweetheart, and to Toffee, and he and the
other four boys walked over to the recruiting office at
Carchester. They were drafted into the same unit, and
216 THE GREAT UNIMPRESSIONABLE
sent lip to Yorkshire to train. (Yorkshire being one
hundred and fifty miles away was presumably the most
convenient and suitable spot.)
They spent five months there, and then Len Cotton
was transferred to the Machine Gun Corps, and the
other four were placed in an infantry regiment and
sent out to India. They did not get an opportunity
of returning to Ashalton, but the night before he left
Ned wrote to his mother:
" Dear Mother, I think we are off to-morrow. They
don't tell us where we are going but they seem to think
it's India because of the Eastern kit served out and so
on. Everything all right, the grub is fine. Young
Walters has gone sick with a bile on his neck. Hope
you are all right. See Toffee dont get into Mr. Mears
yard for this is about the time he puts down that pison
for the rats. Everything O. K. Love from Ned."
He wrote a very similar letter to Ettie, only leaving
out the instructions about Toffee and adding " dont
get overdoing it now the warm weathers on."
They touched at Gibraltar, Malta, Alexandria and
Aden. At all these places he merely sent the cryptic
postcard. He did not write a letter again until he had
been three weeks up in the hills in India. As a matter
of fact it had been a terribly rough passage nearly all
the way, especially in the Meditei*ranean, and nearly
all the boys had been sea-sick most of the time. Ned
had been specially bad and in the Red Sea had de-
veloped a slight fever. In India he had been sent to a
rest-camp up in the hills. He wrote:
THE GREAT UNIMPRESSIONABLE 217
" Dear mother, everything all right. The gnib is
fine. I went a bit sick coming out but nothing. Quite
O. K. now. This is a funny place. The people would
make you laugh to look at. We beat the 2nd Royal
Scots by two goals to one. I wasn't playing but Binnie
played a fine game at half back. He stopped their
center forward, an old league player, time and again.
Hope you are keeping all right. Does Henry Thatcham
take Toffee out regler. Everything serene. Love from
In this letter the words " 2nd Royal Scots " were de-
leted by the censor.
India at that time was apparently a kind of training-
ground for young recniits. There were a few recal-
citrant hill-tribes upon whom to practice the latest de-
velopments of militai-y science, and Ned was mixed up
in one or two of these little scraps^ He proved himself
a good soldier, doing precisely what he was told and
being impervious to danger. They were five months
in India, and then the regiment was suddenly drafted
back to Egypt. Big things were afoot. No one knew
what was going to happen. They spent ten days in a
camp near Alexandria. They were then detailed for
work in connection with the protection of the banks of
the Canal, and Ned was stationed near the famous
pyramid of Gizeh. He wrote to his mother:
" Dear mother, eveiything all right. Pretty quiet so
far. This is a funny place. Young Walters has gone
sick again. We had the regimental sports Thursday.
Me and Bert Carter won the three-legged race. The
218 THE GEEAT UNIMPRESSIONABLE
grub is fine and we get dates and figs for nuts. Hope
your cold is all right by now. Thanks for the parcel
which I got on the 27th. Everything all right. Glad
to hear about Mrs. Parsons having the twins and that.
Glad to hear Toffee all right and so with love your
loving son Ned."
They had not been at Gizeh for more than a week
before they were sent back to Alexandria and placed on
a transport. In fifteen days after touching at Imbros,
Ned and his companions found themselves on Gallipoli
peninsula. Heavy fighting was in progress. They
were rushed up to the front line. For two days
and nights they were in action and their numbers were
reduced to one-third of their original size. For thirty
hours they were without water and were being shelled
by gas, harried by flame-throwers, blasted by shrapnel
and high-explosive. At the end of that time they
crawled back to the beach at night through prickly
bramble which poisoned them and set up septic wounds
if it scratched them. They lay there dormant for two
days, but still under shell-fire, and then were hurriedly
reformed into a new regiment, and sent to another
part of the line. This went on continuously for three
weeks, and then a terrible storm and flood occurred.
Hundreds of men — some alive and some partly alive
— were drowned in the ravines. Ned and his com-
pany lost all their kit, and slept in water for three
nights running. At the end of four weeks he obtained
five days' rest at the base. He wrote to Ettie :
" Dear Ettie, A long time since I had a letter from
THE GREAT UNIMPRESSIONABLE 210
you. IIopo all right. Everything all right so far.
We had a bad storm but the weather now keeps fine.
Had a fine bath this morning. There is a man in our
company would make you laugh. He is an Irish-
Canadian. He plays the penny whissle fine and sings
a bit too. Sorry to say young Walters died. He got
enteric and phewmonnia and so on. I expect his people
will have heard all right. How is old Mrs. Walters?
Dick Thursby got a packet too and Mrs. Quinby's boy
I forget his name. How are them white rabbits of
yours. I met a feller as used to take the milk round for
Mr. Brand up at Bodes farm. Funny wasn't it. Well
nothing more now. I hope this finds you as it leaves
me your affectionate Ned."
Ned was three months on Gallipoli peninsula, but
he left before the evacuation. During the whole of
that time he was never not under shell-fire. He took
part in seven attacks. On one occasion he went over
the top with twelve hundred others, of whom only one
hundred and seven returned. Once he was knocked
unconscious by a mine explosion which killed sixty-
seven men. At the end of that period he was shot
through the back by a sniper. He was put in a dress-
ing-station, and a gentleman in a white overall came and
stuck a needle into his chest and left him there in a
state of nudity for twelve hours. Work at the field
hospitals was very congested just then. He became a
bit delirious and was eventually put on a hospital ship
with a little tag tied to him. After some vague and
restless period he found himself again at Imbros and in
220 THE GEEAT UNIMPRESSIONAELE
a very comfortable hospital. He stayed there six weeks
and his wound proved to be slight. The bone was only
grazed. He wrote to his mother :
" Dear mother, Everything all right. I had a scratch
but nothing. I hope you enjoyed the flower show.
How funny meetings Mrs. Perks. We have a fine time
here. The grub is fine. Sorry to say Binnie Short
went under. He got gassed one night when he hadnt
his mask on. The weather is mild and pleasant. Glad
to hear Henry takes Toffee out all right. Have you
heard from Ettie for some time. We had a fine concert
on Friday. A chap played the flute lovely. Hope you
are now all right again. Your loving son Ked."
In bed in the hospital at Imbros a bright idea oc-
curred to ISTed. He made his will. Such an idea
would never have occurred to him had it not been
forced upon him by the unusual experiences of the past
year. He suddenly realized that of all the boys who
had left the village with him only Len Cotton, as far
as he knew, remained. So one night he took a blunt-
pointed pencil, and laboriously wrote on the space for
the will at the end of his pay-book:
" I leave everything I've got to my mother Anne
Picklekin, including Toffee. I hope Henry Thatcham
will continue to look after Toffee except the silver bowl
which I won at the rabbit show at Oppleford. This I
leave to Ettie Skinner as a memorial of me."
One day ISTed enjoyed a great excitement. He was
under discharge from the hospital, and a rimior got
round that he and some others were to be sent back
THE GREAT UNIJ\rPKESS10NABLE 221
to Enn;laii(l. Tlioy hung about the island for three days,
and were then packed into an Italian fruit-steamer —
which had been converted into a transport. It was very
overcrowded and the weather was hot. They sailed one
night and reached another island before dawn. They
spent three weeks doing this. They only sailed at
night, for the seas about there were reported to be in-
fested with submarines. Every morning they put in at
some island in the Greek Archipelago, or at some port
on the mainland. At one place there was a terrible
epidemic of illness, owing to some Greek gentlemen
having sold the men some doped wine. Fifteen of
them died. Ned escaped from this as he had not had
any of the wine. He was practically a teetotaler ex-
cept for an occasional glass of beer. But he was far
from happy on that voyage. The seas were rough and
the transport ought to have been bi'oken up years ago,
and this didn't seem to be the right route for England.
At length they reached a large port called Salonika.
They never went into the town, but were sent straight
out to a camp in the hills ten miles away. The country
was very wild and rugged, and there was great difficulty
with water. Everything was polluted and malarial.
There was very little fighting apparently, but plenty of
sickness. He found himself in a Scottish regiment.
At least, it was called Scottish, but the men came from
all parts of the world, from Bow Street to Hong-Kong.
There was to be no Blighty after all, but still —
there it was! He continued to drill, and march, and
clean his rifle and play the mouth-organ and football.
222 THE GEEAT UNIMPEESSIONABLE
And then one morning he received a letter from his
mother, which had followed him from Imbros. It ran
as follows :
" My dear IS^ed, How are you, dear ? I hope you
keep all right. My corf is now pretty middlin other-
wise nothin to complain of. ISTow dear I have to tell
you something which grieves me dear. Im afraid its
no good keepin it from you ony longer dear. Ettie is
walhin out ivith another feller. A feller from the air
station called Alf Mullet. I taxed her with it and she
says yes it is so dear. ISTow dear you mustnt take on
about this. I told her off I says it was a disgraceful
and you out there fightin for your country and that.
And she says nothin excep yes there it was and she
couldnt help it and her feelins had been changed you
being away and that. ISTow dear you must put a good
face on this and remember theres just as good fish in
the sea as ever came out of it as they say dear. One of
Mr. Bean's rabits died Sunday they think it overeating
you never know with rabits. Keep your feet warm dear
I hope you got them socks I sent. Lizzie was at chapel
Sunday she had on her green lawn looked very nice I
thought but I wish she wouldn't get them spots on her
face perhaps its only the time of year. Toffee is all
right he had a fight with a hairdale Thursday Henry-
says got one of his eres bitten but nothin serous. So
now dear I must close as Mrs. Minchin wants me to go
and take tea with her has Florrie has gone to the school
treat at Furley. And so dear with love your lovin
THE GREAT UNIMPRESSIONABLE 223
Wlicn he had finished reading this letter he uttered
an excLimation, and a cockney friend sitting on the
ground by his side remarked :
" What's the matter, mate ? "
Ned took a packet of cigarettes out of his pocket and
liffhted one. Then he said :
" My girl's jilted me."
The cockney laughed and said:
" Gawd ! is that all ? I thought it was somthin'
serious ! "
He was cleaning his rifle M'ith an oil rag, and he
continued : " Don't you worry, mate. "Women are like
those blinkin' little Greek islands, places to call at but
not to stay. What was she like ? "
" Oo — all right."
" Pretty ? "
"Ay — middlin'."
" 'As she got another feller ? "
" Oh, well, it's all in the gime. If you will go
gallivanting about these foreign parts en joy in' yerself,
what d'yer expect? What time's kick off this after-
noon ? "
" Two o'clock."
" Reckon we're goin' to win ? "
" I doan't know. 'Pends upon whether McFarlane
" Yus, 'e's a wonderful player. Keeps the team to-
224 THE GREAT UNIMPRESSIONABLE
" Are you playin' ? "
" Ay. I'm playin' right half."
" Are yer ? Well, you'll 'ave yer 'ands full. You'll
'ave to tackle Curly Snider."
Ned's team won the match that afternoon, and he
wrote to his mother afterwards :
" Dear mother, We just had a great game against
15/Royal South Hants. McFarlane played center half
and he was in great form. We led 2-0 at half time
and they scored one at the beginnin of the second half
but Davis got throu towards the end and we beat them
by 3-1j I was playin quite a good game I think but
McFarlane is a real first class. I got your letter all
right. I was sorry about Ettie but of course she knows
what she wants I spose. You dont say what Toffee
did to the other dog. You might tell Henry to let
me have a line about this. Fancy Liz being at chapel.
I almos forget what shes like. Everything is all right.
The grub is fine. This is a funny place all rocks and
planes. The Greeks are a stinkin lot for the most part
so now must close with love, Ned."
Having completed this letter, Ned got out his pay-
book and revised his will. Ettie Skinner was now de-
leted, and the silver bowl won at the rabbit-show at
Oppleford was bequeathed to Henry Thatcham in con-
sideration of his services in taking Toffee out for runs.
They spent a long and tedious eight months on the
plains of Macedonia, dodging malaria and bullets,
cracking vermin in their shirts, playing football, rag-
THE GREAT UXIMPRESSIOXABLE 225
ging, quarreling, drilling, maneuvering and, most de-
moralizing of all, hanging about. And then a joyous
day dawned. This liyhrid Scottish regiment was
ordered home ! They left Salonika in a French liner
and ten davs later arrived at Malta. But in the mean-
time the gods had been busy. The wireless operators
had been flashing their mysterious signals all over the
Mediterranean and the Atlantic. At Malta the order
was countermanded. They remained there long enough
to coal, but the men were not even given shore leave.
The next day they turned eastwards again and made
The cockney was furious. He had the real genius
of the grouser, with the added venom of the man who
in the year of grace had lived by his wits and now found
his wits enclosed in an iron cylinder. It was a dis-
"When I left that filthy 'ole," he exclaimed, "I
swore to God I'd try and never remember it again.
And now I'm darned if we ain't goin' back there. As
if once ain't enough in a man's lifetime! It's like the
blooming cat with the blankety mouse ! "
" Eh, well, mon," interjected a Scotsman, " there's
ane thing. They canna keel ye no but once."
" It ain't the killing I mind. It's the blooming
mucking about. A^Tiat d'yer say, Pickles? "
" Ah, well . . . there it is," said Ned sententiously.
There was considerable " mucking about " in Egypt,
and then they started off on a long trek through the
desert, marching on barbed-wire mesh that had been laid
226 THE GREAT UNIMPEESSIO^ABLE
down by the engineers. There was occasional skir-
mishing, sniping, fleas, delay, and general discomfort.
One day, in Southern Palestine, ISTed was out with a
patrol party just before sun-down. They were trekking
across the sand between two oases when two shots rang
out. Five of the party fell. The rest were exposed
in the open to foes firing from concealment on two sides.
The position was hopeless. They threw up their hands.
Two more shots rang out and the cockney next to ISTed
fell forward with a bullet through his throat. Then
dark figures came across the sands towards them.
There were only three left, Ned, a Scotsman, and a boy
who had been a clerk in a drapery store at Lewisham
before the war. He said :
" Well, are they going to kill us ? "
" 1^0," said the Scotsman. " Onyway, keep your
hands weel up and pray to God."
A tall man advanced, and to their relief beckoned
them to follow. They fell into single file.
" These are no Tur-r-ks at all," whispered the Scots-
man. " They're some nomadic Arab tribe."
The Scotsman had attended evening continuation
classes at Peebles, and was rather fond of the word
They were led to one of the oases, and instructed to
sit down. The Arabs sat round them, armed with rifles.
They remained there till late at night, when another
party arrived, and a rope was produced. They were
handcuffed and braced together, and then by gesticula-
tion told to march. They trailed across the sand for
THE GREAT UNIMPRESSIONABLE 227
three hours aud a half. There was no moon, but the
night was tolerably clear. At length they came to
another oasis, and were bidden to halt. They sat on
the sand for twenty minutes, and one of the Arabs gave
them some water. Then a whistle blew, and they were
kicked and told to follow. The party wended its way
through a grove of cedar trees.. It was pitch dark.
At last they came to a halt by a large hut. There was
much coming and going. When they entered tlie hut,
in charge of their guard, they were blinded by a strong
light. The hut was comfortably furnished and lighted
by electric light. At a table sat a stout, pale-faced man,
with a dark mustache — obviously a German. By his
side stood a tall German orderly. The German official
looked tired and bored. He glanced at the prisoners
and drew some papers towards him.
" Come and stand here in front of my desk," he said
They advanced, and he looked at each one carefully.
Then he yawned, dipped his pen in the ink, tried it on
a sheet of paper, swore, and inserted a fresh nib.
" Now, you," he said, addressing the Scotsman,
when he had completed these operations. " Name, age,
profession, regiment. Smartly."
He obtained all these particulars from each man.
Then he got up and came round the table, and looking
right into the eyes of tlie clerk from Lewisham, he
" We know, of course, in which direction your brigade
is advancing, but from which direction is the brigade
228 THE GREAT UNIMPRESSIONABLE
commanded by Major-General Forbes Fittlewortli ad-
vancing ? "
The three of them all knew this, for it was common
gossip of the march. But the clerk from Lewisham
" I don't know."
The German turned from him to the Scotsman and
repeated the question.
" I don't know," answered the Scotsman.
" From which direction is the brigade commanded
by Major-General Forbes Fittleworth advancing ? " he
said to ISTed.
" Naw ! I doan't know," replied Ned.
And then a horrible episode occurred. The German
suddenly whipped out a revolver and shot the clerk
from Lewisham through the body twice. He gave a
faint cry and crumpled forward. Without taking the
slightest notice of this horror, the German turned de-
liberately and held the revolver pointed at Ned's face.
In a perfectly unimpassioned, toneless voice he re-
" From which direction is the brigade commanded
by Major-General Forbes Fittleworth advancing? "
In the silence which followed, the only sound seemed
to be the drone of some machine, probably from the
electric-light plant. The face of Ned was mildly sur-
prised but quite impassive. He answered without a
moment's hesitation :
" Naw ! I doan't know."
There was a terrible moment in which the click of the
THE GREAT UNIMrKESSIOXABLE 229
revolver could almost be heard. It seemed to hover iu
front of his face for an unconscionable time, then sud-
denly the German lowered it with a curse, and leaning
forward, he struck Ned on the side of his face with the
flat of his hand. He treated the Scotsman in the same
way, causing his nose to bleed. Both of the men re-
mained quite impassive. Then he walked back to his
seat, and said calmly :
" Unless you can refresh your memories within the
next two hours you will share the fate of — that swine.
You will now go out to the plantation at the back and
dig your gi'aves. Dig three graves."
He spoke sharply in Arabic to the guards, and they
were led out. They were handed a spade each, two
Arabs held torches for them to work by, and four others
hovered in a circle twelve paces away. The soil was
light sand, and digging was fairly easy. Each man
dug his own grave making it about four feet deep.
When it came to the third grave the Scotsman whis-
" Dig deep, mon."
" Deeper than others ? "
" Ay, deep enough to make a wee trench."
" I see."
They made it very deep, working together and whis-
pering. ^Vllen it was practically completed, apparently
a sudden quarrel arose between the men. They swore
at each other, and the Scotsman sprang out of the trench
and gripped ISTed by the throat. A fearful struggle be-
gan to take place on the edge of the grave. The guard
230 THE GREAT UNIMPEESSIONABLE
ran up and tried to separate them. And then, durin
the brief confusion there was a sudden dramatic de-
velopment. Simultaneously they snatched their spades.
Both the men with the torches were knocked senseless,
and one of them fell into the third grave. The torches
were stamped out and a rifle went off. It was fired by
a guard near the hut, and the bullet struck another Arab
who was trying to use his bayonet. Ned brought a
fourth man down with his spade and seized his rifle,
and the Scotsman snatched the rifle of the man who had
been shot, and they both leapt back into their purposely
" We shallna be able to hold this long, but we'll give
them a run for their money," said the Scotsman.
The body of one Arab was lying on the brink of their
trench and the other in the trench itself. Fortunately
they both had bandoliers, which Ned and his companion
" You face east and I'll take west," said the Scotsman,
his eyes glittering in the dim light. " I'm going to
try and scare that Boche devil."
He peppered away at the hut, putting bullets through
every window and smashing the telephone connection,
which was a fine target at the top of a post against the
sky. Bullets pinged over their heads from all direc-
tions, but there was little chance of them being rushed
while their ammunition held out. However, it became
necessary to look ahead. It was the Scotsman'-s idea
in digging the graves to plan them in zig-zag forma-
tion. The end of the furthest one was barely ton
THE GREAT UNIMPRESSIOXiVELE 231
paces from a clump of aloes. He now got busy with his
spade whilst Ned kept guard in both directions, occa-
sionally firing at the hut and then in the opposite direc-
tion into the darkness. In half-an-hour the Scotsman
had made a shallow connection between the three graves,
leaving just enough room to crawl through. They then
in turn donned the turbans of the two fallen Arabs,
who were otherwise dressed in a kind of semi-European
They ended up with a tremendous fusillade against
the hut, riddling it with bullets; then they crept to the
end of the furthest grave, and leaving their rifles, they
made a sudden dash across the open space to the group
of aloes, bending low and limping like wounded
They reached them in safety, but there were many
open spaces to cover yet. As they emerged from the
trees JSTed stumbled on a dark figure. lie kicked it and
ran. They both ran zig-zag fashion, and tore off their
turbans as they raced along. They covered nearly a
hundred yards, and then bullets began to search them out
again. They must have gone nearly a mile before the
Scotsman gave a sudden slight groan.
" I'm hit," he said.
He stumbled into a clump of bushes, and fell down.
"Is it bad?" asked Ned.
" Eh, laddie, I'm doon," he said quietly. He put his
hand to his side. He had been shot through tlie lungs.
Ned stayed with him all night, and they were imdis-
turbed. Just before dawn the Scotsman said:
232 THE GEEAT UNIMPRESSIONABLE
" Eh, mon, but yon was a bonny fight," and he turned
on his back and died.
Ned made a rough grave with his hands, and buried
his companion. He took his identification-disc and
his pocket-book and small valuables, with the idea of
returning them to his kin if he should get through him-
self. He also took his water-flask, which still for-
tunately contained a little water. He lay concealed all
day, and at night he boldly donned his turban, issued
forth and struck a caravan-trail. He continued this for
four days and nights hiding in the day-time and walking
at night. He lived on figs and dates, and one night he
raided a village and caught a fowl, which also nearly
cost him his life.
On the fourth night his water gave out, and he was
becoming light-headed. He stumbled on into the dark-
ness. He was a desperate man. All the chances were
against him, and he felt unmoved and fatalistic. He
drew his clasp-knife and gripped it tightly in his right
hand. He was hardly conscious of what he was doing,
and where he was going. The moon was up, and after
some hours he suddenlv beheld a small oblonsr hut. He
got it into his head that this was the hut where his
German persecutor was. He crept stealthily towards
" I'll kill that swine," he muttered.
He was within less than a hundred yards of the hut,
when a voice called out :
"'Alt! Who goes there?"
" It's me," he said. " Doan't thee get in my way. I
THE GREAT UXIMPRESSIOXiiBLE 233
■want to kill liini. I'm going to kill him. I'm going to,
I tell you. I'm going to stab him through his black
" What the hell ! "
The sentry was not called upon to use his rifle, for
the turbaned figure fell forward in a swoon.
Three weeks later Ned wrote to his mother from
Bethlehem (where Christ was born), and this is what he
" Dear mother, Everything going on all right. I got
three parcels here altogether as I had been away copped
by some black devils an unfriendly tribe. I got back
all right though. The ointment you sent me was fine
and so was them rock cakes. What a funny thing about
Belle getting lost at the picnick. We got an awful
soaking from the Mid-Lanes Fusiliers on Saturday.
They had two league cracks playing one a wonderful
center forward. He scored three goals. They beat us
by 7-0. The weather is hot but quite pleasant at night.
We have an old sergeant who was born in America does
wonderful tricks with string and knots and so on. He
tells some very tall yarns. You have to take them with
a pinch of salt. Were getting fine grub here pretty
quiet so far. Hope Henry remembers to wash Toffee
with that stuff every week or so. Sony to hear Len
Cotton killed. Is his sister still walking out with that
feller at Aynliam. I never think he was much class
for her getting good money though. Hope you have not
had any more trouble with the boiler. That was a good
price to get for that old buck rabbit. Well there's
234 THE GREAT UNIMPRESSIONABLE
nothing more just now and so with love your loving
Ned went through the Palestine campaign and was
slightly wounded in the thigh. After spending some
time in hospital he was sent to the coast and put on
duty looking after Turkish prisoners. He remained
there six months and was then shipped to Italy. On
the way the transport was torpedoed. He was one of a
painty of fifty-seven picked up by French destroyers.
He had been for over an hour in the water in his life-
belt. He was landed in Corsica and there he developed
pneumonia. He only wrote his mother one short note
" Dear mother, Have been a bit dicky owing to fall-
ing in the water and getting wet. But going on all
right. Nurses very kind and one of the doctors rowed
for Cambridge against Oxford. I forget the year but
Cambridge won by two and a half lengths. We have
very nice flowers in the ward. Well not much to write
about and so with love your loving son, Ned."
Ned was fit again in a few weeks and he was sent up
to the Italian front. He took part in several engage-
ments and was transferred to the French front during
the last months of the war. He was in the great retreat
in March 1918 and in the advance in July. After
the armistice he was with the army of occupation on
the banks of the Rhine. His mother wrote to him
" My dear Ned, Am glad that this fighting is now all
over dear. How relieved you must be. Mr. Filter was
THE GEEAT UNIMPRESSTOXABLE 235
in Sunday. lie thinks tliere will be no difficulty about
you gettin your job back when you come back dear.
Miss SifFkins as been deliverin but as Mr. Filter says
its not likely a girl is going to be able to deliver letters
not like a man can and that dear. So now you will be
comin home soon dear. That will be nice. We had a
pleesant afternoon at the Church needlewomens gild.
Miss Barbary Banstock sang very plcesantly abide with
me and the vicar told a very amusing story about a little
girl and a prince and she didn't know he was a prince
and talked to him just as though he was a man it was
very amusin dear. I hear Ettie is goin to get married
next month they wont get me to the weddin was it ever
so I call it disgraceful and I have said so. Maud Bean
is expectin in April that makes her forth in three years.
Mr. Bean has lost three more rabbits they say its rats
this time. The potatoes are a poor lot this time but the
nmners and cabbidge promiss well. So now dear I will
close. Hoppin to have your back dear soon, your loving
It was, however, the autumn before ISTed was de-
mobilized. One day in early October he came swinging
up the village street carrying a white kit-bag slung
across his left shoulder. He looked more bronzed and
perhaps a little thinner, but otherwise little altered by
his five years of war experiences. The village of
Ashalton was quite unaltered, but he observed several
strange faces; he only met two acquaintances on the
way to his mother's cottage, and they both said :
^' Hullo, ISTed ! Ye're home agen then ! "
236 THE GEEAT UNIMPEESSIONABLE
In each case he replied :
" Aj," and grinned, and walked on.
He entered his mother's cottage, and she was ex-
pecting him. The lamp was lighted and a grand tea
spread. There was fresh boiled beetroot, tinned sal-
mon, salad, cake, and a large treacle tart. She em-
braced him and said :
" Well, ]STed ! Ye're back then."
He replied, " Ay."
" Ye're lookin fine," she said. " What a fine suit
they've given ye ! "
" Ay," he replied.
" I expect you want yer tea ? "
He had dropped his kit-bag, and he moved luxuriously
round the little parlor, looking at all the familiar ob-
jects.. Then he sat down, and his mother brought the
large brown tea-pot from the hob and they had a cozy
tea. She told him all the very latest news of the village,
and all the gossip of the countryside, and ISTed grinned
and listened. He said nothing at all. The tea had
progressed to the point when ISTed's mouth was full of
treacle tart when his mother suddenly stopped, and said :
" Oh, dear, I'm afraid I have somethin' distressin'
to tell ye, dear."
"0-oh? what's that?"
" Poor Toffee was killed."
ISTed stopped suddenly in the mastication of the
treacle tart. His eyes bulged and his cheeks became
THE GREAT UNIMPRESST0:N"ABLE 237
very red. He stared at his mother wildly, and re-
" What's that ? What's that ye say, mother ? "
" Poor Toffee, my dear. It happened right at the
cross-roads. Henry was takin' him out. It seems he
ran round in front of a steam-roller, and a motor came
round the corner sudden. Heniy called out, but too
late. Went right over his back. Poor Henry was quite
upset. He brought him home. What's the matter,
Xed had pushed his chair back and he stood up. He
stared at his mother like a man who has seen horror
for the first time.
" WTiere is he where was " he stammered.
" We buried 'im, dear, under the little mound beyond
the rabbit hutches."
Ned staggered across the room like a drunken man,
and repeated dismally:
" The little mound beyond the rabbit hutches ! "
He lifted the latch, and groped his way into the
garden. His mother followed him. He went along
the mud path, past the untenanted hutches covered with
tarpaulin. Some tall sunflowers stared at him inso-
lently. A fine rain was beginning to fall. In the dim
light he could just see the little mound — signifying
the spot where Toffee was buried. He stood there bare-
headed, gazing at the spot. His mother did not like
to speak. She tiptoed back to the door. But after a
time she called out :
"Ned! . . . Ned!"
238 THE GREAT UNIMPRESSIONABLE
He did not seem to hear, and she waited patiently.
At the end of several minutes she called again :
" Ned ! . . . Ned dear, come and finish your tea."
He replied quite quietly:
" All right, mother."
But he kept his face averted, for he did not want his
mother to see the tears which were streaming down his
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